Suspecting that the town has grown even faster than the last U.S. Census projected, Morrisville is spending more than $500,000 to conduct a new census this spring.
Town staff used data on tax collections and housing construction, among other indicators, to estimate the town’s 2014 population is at least 23,000, but likely higher. The official Census projection estimates Morrisville has 22,000 residents.
That difference could earn the town hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Since annual funds as well as one-time grants are often divvied out based at least partially on an area’s population, Morrisville leaders believe their $510,000 bet will more than pay for itself before the next U.S. Census in 2020.
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“I think in future tax years it’ll definitely help offset the need for (property tax rate) increases, or we can do things we wouldn’t normally be able to do,” Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman said.
The town is hoping for more state and federal funding for road work, senior services and other projects.
The N.C. Department of Transportation, for example, uses population figures to allocate anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of its regional funding on highway projects, based on the type of work being done.
Sales tax revenue, beer and wine tax revenue and other funding sources are also collected by the state and redistributed to towns based, in part, on population.
Some retail companies also have corporate standards about not expanding to cities under a certain population level.
Special census costs rise
The census will start in mid-March and will take six to eight weeks to finish. About 45 workers will canvas neighborhoods, and town leaders are asking residents to be welcoming.
Census workers will wear official badges. All information is confidential.
Morrisville is the only Wake County town conducting a special census this year, but its staff doesn’t lack experience. The town also paid for a special census in 2004, after staff correctly determined the 2000 Census estimates had become outdated.
“I wouldn’t say they can’t count right,” Stohlman said of the Census Bureau. “They don’t count often enough for high-growth areas.”
He credited Council Member Michael Schlink with bringing up the issue in reference to 2000 numbers and getting other officials on board.
“This has been on my discussion list for four years now,” said Schlink, who has been on the town council for four years.
This time, however, the support from council members wasn’t immediate. The cost of a special census has risen considerably since 2004, and the town staff hadn’t projected as steep of a difference. Even Schlink voiced some concerns, later recanting them, over the feasibility of getting it done.
Last summer, town staffers told the council that the cost would be “much higher than anticipated and (much higher than) the cost in 2004,” according to the meeting minutes from July 8, 2014.
But even with those caveats, the town could still recoup the special census cost within about 20 months – as long as the staff’s estimates turn out to be right.
“Any calculated increase in population would provide tax return income to Morrisville around September 2015,” the town council was told in July. “The payback time frame is 1.7 years based on population and financial estimates.”
Stohlman said that 1.7-year model was based on a conservative model.
“If its even greater than that, we’ll have a speedier recovery than that,” he said. “I think we’re really confident ... that we’re going to be ahead of even our own calculations.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran