"Consensus is, fill out your census"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:54 PM
"It is, as they say, all about the Benjamins.The moolah. The greenbacks. The money.That Census 2000 form that appeared in your mailbox this week means big bucks for Bainbridge Island, and economic determinists that we are, we ask you to take a few minutes to fill it out and send it in.The eight questions ask little more than your age, gender and racial makeup and marital status. The 53-question long form - which goes to about one household in six - tracks more in-depth demographic data, like education level, household income, and the age and size of your home.From that information will spring the lucre - how much state and federal grant money we get over the next decade, how we spend our own local tax dollars, and what kind of commercial investments we see.Our erstwhile colleague Jack Swanson, one of three census recruiters on Bainbridge, resurfaced over the weekend to give us his thoughts on the importance of the federal nose count. To his mind, the results will be about the most powerful planning document around. Indeed:l Just how many islanders are there? No one's sure, but city finance Director Ralph Eells estimates that the city has been losing $750,000 in state shared equalization revenues every year for the last decade - enough to pay for the new city hall, almost - because islanders were badly undercounted in the 1990 census. We can't afford to repeat that mistake.l How many kids do we have, and how old are they? We're about to find out, and school district officials will use that information to plan for new schools, classrooms and teachers over the next 10 years and beyond.l Do we have an educated work force? What do we make, and what do we spend? Economic data like that will help local and regional businesses decide whether to relocate or expand on Bainbridge. And just how many of us are commuting to Seattle these days? The answer will suggest the demand for everything from drop-off dry-cleaning to commuter-friendly, gourmet take-out pork chops.The short answer, Jack says, is money. Money, money, money.Unfortunately, gathering census data is an increasingly uphill climb. Mail-in response in the 1990 Census topped out at a dismal 67 percent. And the big fear is that the current wave of anti-government chic may drive participation down even further this time around. While we can't say we envy the poor census workers who have to go door to door in, say, Hayden Lakes, Idaho, we're counting on Bainbridge Islanders to be intelligent and reasonable. By law, census information can't be shared with other federal agencies - not even the IRS. Yeah, you say, that's what they want us to believe. We say, relax. Big Brother may be looking for you, but the hand that isn't holding the switch has a wad of cash.There's one last reason to fill out your census - the more islanders who return their responses by mail, the less the Census Bureau will have to pay its workers to go out and track you down in person. In the end, it really is all about the green. Fill out the census form, and save some of your own."