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2010 Census - Organizers seeking complete, accurate count

West Fargo City Planner Steve Zimmer encourages citizens to respond to the 2010 Census. Carrie Snyder/The Pioneer

Safe - Easy - Important - are the three components members of the Local Complete the Count Committee are emphasizing regarding the 2010 Census process which will get underway this month in all U.S. communities.

This time around, there will also be a couple of added new twists compared to the census of a decade ago. Instead of individual census workers visiting your house to solicit information, the census materials will be gathered via the mail; and only one short form will be utilized to gather data, a departure from the long and short forms previously used.

West Fargo City Planner Steve Zimmer serves as chairperson for the local Complete the Count Committee that has been working diligently since September to get as many residents involved as possible. Other committee members include: Larry Weil, City Planning Director, Lisa Sankey, Assistant City Planner, Pete Nielsen, West Fargo Police Officer, Nicole Munson, West Fargo Public Schools, Myrna Larson, U.S. Census Partnership Specialist, Fowzia Adde, Immigrant Development Denter, Sinisia Milovanovic, Lutheran Social Services, and Yok Sim Gunaratne, Cultural Diversity Resources.

In advance of the 2010 census, address canvassing was initially completed the middle of last year to ensure that information on every individual in West Fargo was substantiated for an accurate count, consequently, everyone should be receiving their notice in the mail.

When the information arrives in mailboxes within the next couple of weeks, Zimmer urges citizens to take an active role in supplying an immediate response.

Residents can first expect a postcard announcing the start of Census 2010, followed by the actual census form that must be filled out by the head of the household and returned on or before April 1, designated officially as "Census Day."

The simplified statement will consist of ten questions, asking for name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship, and whether you own or rent a home, taking only about ten minutes to complete.

Zimmer said it is vital for everyone to respond. "We have been working hard to get the word out that everyone is needed to participate and that it is a safe process. When everybody gets the forms, we ask them to fill them out and send them back. That will be the easiest."

Organizers are especially targeting college students, the elderly, and new Americans, Zimmer said. "We want them to know they need to respond in order to be counted, and that it is entirely safe," adding that the census answers are protected by law and completely confidential, with no one able to view the information.

In the event forms aren't returned, Zimmer said a second packet will be mailed out and if there is no response from that, a census worker will visit the household until the information is secured.

Zimmer said the importance of doing so equates to $10,000 per person in federal and state dollars over the course of ten years until the next census, that will go toward funding schools, transportation and health care areas. "If everybody is counted, we will receive more money for schools, infrastructure and social programs," he said.

With the 2000 West Fargo population estimated at 14,500 and the present population estimates at between 26,000 and 27,000, Zimmer said the dollars add up quickly, and with an increased population become much more sizeable.

Data from the official census is also crucial in arriving at where to locate future commercial and retail needs, i.e. factories, shopping centers, movie theaters, and offices, all sources for new employment; as well as serving as the basis for drawing up legislative districts and determining the number of elected officials in the house of representatives.

Zimmer said two questionnaire assistance centers will be established to assist citizens during the census process, one at the West Fargo Public Library, 109 3rd St. E., and the second at Lutheran Social Services in Fargo, at 1325 11th St. N, Fargo. Interpreters will be available to assist new Americans with language issues at each location.

Residents can also have their questions answered by contacting Zimmer, Weil or Sankey at West Fargo City Hall, by calling 433-5320.

Zimmer said serving as chair for the Complete the Count Committee has been both a rewarding and eye-opening experience. "It's been an exciting process because I never knew what it entailed before. I thought census workers just went out and knocked on every door. I didn't realize it was such a detailed effort involving the federal government having to send people out and all of the resources and materials needed in the process. Just an enormous amount of work went into it prior to us getting involved as a city. But then trying to get 100 percent of anything, I realize you have to be detailed. It's interesting to see what other communities are trying to do as well, especially the way the economy has been factored into the equation being more important than ever to try and get as much funding as possible for all the programs."

Anyone seeking more information about the 2010 Census can visit the Web site set up at