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PB mayor to challenge census tally of 49,083

by John Worthen, Chad Day | February 12, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.

— Pine Bluff Mayor Carl Redus said Friday that he plans to challenge the accuracy of the 2010 Census results for his city, which show a loss of more than 6,000 residents.

The 2010 Census counted 49,083 residents here, dropping the city’s population below 50,000 for the first time since the 1960s. The 2000 Census counted 55,085 residents.

Among Arkansas cities that have reached or exceeded a population of 50,000 throughout Arkansas history, Pine Bluff is the only one to dip below that threshold, said Don Zimmerman, director of the Arkansas Municipal League.

The amount of money cities receive each year from the government changes based on an official census count. Cities losing people will also lose dollars, while cities gaining people will get more money to help pay for streets and city services.

Jefferson County has lost more than 6,800 residents since 2000 and now reports a population of 77,435. That’s down from 84,278 residents in 2000.

Redus said he and others in city government were surprised by Pine Bluff’s results.

“It’s a disappointment, no doubt,” Redus said. “We have done all we could do to try and prevent our population from dipping below the 50,000 mark. That said, it’s a symbolic mark, and it doesn’t have as much of a negative impact as one may think.”

The decline was expected by analysts at the census State Data Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, director Phyllis Poche said.

Poche met last spring with city leaders to help promote the census effort to make sure everyone was counted because the state data center had identified Pine Bluff as being vulnerable to falling below 50,000.

When the data was released this week, housing numbers bolstered the reliability of Pine Bluff’s count, she said.

“When you look at the number of housing units and how many are vacant it just validates what the count was,” Poche said.

Redus said funding for essential city services and those that residents have come to rely upon on a day-to-day basis, such as the transit system, should not be affected by the population drop.

Still, the mayor said he would like the census bureau to review its findings.

According to the census website, disputes can be filed beginning June 1 as part of the 2010 Census County Question Resolution Program. The challenges must be submitted directly by a mayor to census headquarters in Washington, D.C., via e-mail, fax or mail.

Challenges will be accepted through June 1, 2013.

A city that has 50,000 in population is considered an entitlement city, meaning it receives, for example, annual community block development grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials have said.

A call to a department spokesman on Friday was not returned, and Pine Bluff officials are not yet sure how the population shift will affect the funding.

In 2010, Pine Bluff received $3.6 million in state turnback funds. These funds are comprised of general revenue allocated by the legislature from budget stabilization and highway funds that come mostly from gasoline taxes, said Debbie Rogers, manager of local government services with the state treasurer’s office.

Municipalities in Arkansas now get around $60 a person each year in state turnback money based on their populations, she said.

To figure how much money each city receives on a monthly basis, the state divides a city’s population by the total population of all incorporated cities in the state.

Despite census results, Redus speculated that his city is still at or slightly above the 50,000 population mark, as precensus estimates showed.

“It’s likely that we had people out there who were fearful of being counted because of certain benefits they may receive from the government, such as unemployment,” said Redus. “Sometimes people are close-minded when it comes to things like this. We also want to make sure that we have an accurate count of students in and around [the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff].”

Colleges and universities count students living in on-campus housing and forward the information to the census bureau.Off-campus students, however, are asked to fill out census questionnaires, which can be a bit of a challenge because some think they’re counted in the city they’re from rather than the college town they live in, officials in college towns contend.

Another reason for the population decrease could be that people just don’t want to share information about themselves with the government, said Ted Davis, an assistant to Redus.

“Sharing that information, in their eyes, could have been harmful to their situations,” Davis said. “They just clam up when you start asking them questions about their personal lives.”

But housing numbers supported the count. In Pine Bluff, there were more vacancies and fewer places for people to live.

The city saw decreases in the number of dwellings (down 6.9 percent) and in the number of occupied dwellings (down 9.5 percent). Pine Bluff also had a 12.8 percent increase in vacancies.

There were 20,923 dwellings in the city. Of those, 86.4 percent, or 18,071, were occupied and 13.6 percent, or 2,852, were vacant.

A decade ago, there were 22,484 dwellings in the city. Of those, 88.8 percent, or 19,956, were occupied and 11.2 percent, or 2,528, were vacant.

Poche said Pine Bluff’s housing numbers show “that it may not have been an undercount.”

“This substantiates that loss in the area,” she said.

Census numbers also show that most of the people who left Pine Bluff were white. The city’s white population dropped by 40.4 percent, or 7,120, while the black population grew slightly by 2.3 percent, or 816 people.

The change was about an even 10 percentage-point shift from white to black.

In 2000, 32 percent of the city, or 17,609 people, were identified only as white. In 2010, that percentage was 21.4, or 10,489 people.

Alternatively, in 2000, 65.6 percent of the city, or 36,130 people, identified themselves only as black. In 2010, that percentage rose to 75.3 or 36,946.

All other races made up only about one percent of the population each time.

Poche said she couldn’t say why the shift broke along racial lines but said Pine Bluff and Little Rock are seeing similar population changes.

In Little Rock, whites make up 48.9 percent of the population, compared with 55.1 percent in 2000. The white population in the state’s capital city fell by 6,183 residents over the past decade, to 94,665.

“People are tending to move out into more suburban areas and into smaller surrounding cities. ... In comparison of Little Rock and Pine Bluff, there is a movement out,” she said.

As for Jefferson County’s census results, County Judge Mike Holcomb said on Thursday that the county should “still be in good shape,” even with its population loss.

There are no plans to contest the county’s results.

“I don’t think this is going to hit us,” he said.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 02/12/2011

Print Headline: PB mayor to challenge census tally of 49,083


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