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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2019 4 months ago

County officials begin 2020 Census campaign

Orange County officials are preparing to conduct the 2020 Census, which aims to count every person living in the county.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

With less than six months left until 2020, Orange County officials are preparing for the task of conducting the upcoming census.

The census is done every 10 years by the U.S. Census Bureau, and county officials will play a large role in counting every person living in Orange County. At the national level, the census also counts every person living in the United States and U.S. territories.

“The idea is for us to work as a local community to make sure that we get as accurate of a count as possible,” said Lavon Williams, manager of the Orange County Community Action Division. “What we try to do with our local Complete Count Committee is reach out to the trusted voices of the community — businesses, nonprofits, faith, health, education, social services — everything we can try to reach out to people who can encourage people to take the census. The first reason why it’s so important is because we use the census data to determine our representation in government at federal, state and local levels. That’s how we determine our districts and representatives in Congress and state legislature.”

Getting an accurate count also is important, Williams said, because population determines the share of federal and state dollars that come down to the local government. Many of the funding programs at the federal and state levels are based on formulas, and at the root of most of those formulas are statistics from the census, he said. This year, $675 billion will be available nationwide based on the census, and Orange County needs its fair share of those dollars.

Kelly Finkelstein, senior public information officer for Orange County, added that county programs that receive this funding include Head Start, free and reduced school-meal programs, low-income energy assistance, adoption and foster programs, and federal student aid. 

“In the business and nonprofit arenas, everyone needs accurate information about the population for planning purposes and so forth,” said Melvin Pittman, chairman of the Orange County Complete Count Committee. “It’s very important to have an accurate count. As much as Orange County and Florida are growing, we’ve got to know that count and where they’re living.”

Williams said that the committee is just now starting to gather data and begin analyzing. Although there is no estimate for how many people are living in certain areas experiencing high growth — such as Horizon West and Lake Nona — it’s not hard to guess where people are going based on building permits being pulled.

The committee will be pulling in county planning staff to see where they’re projecting and seeing future growth, Williams said.

Much of the growth Orange County is experiencing is coming from Horizon West. In fact, according to the county’s Horizon West Town Hall presentation, the Horizon West area accounted for 46% of the county’s single-family detached residential permits in 2018. It also accounted for 32% of the county’s townhome residential permits and 42% of the county’s overall residential permits. According to the Town Hall presentation, the Horizon West area represents just 4% of Orange County.

While rapid growth makes it difficult to project an estimate for how many people live in the county, that is exactly what the census is for. And although it’s the 2020 Census, residents can get involved now.

“We’ve formed a Complete Count Committee and meet every third Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Orange County Internal Operation Center (on South Street),” Williams said. “If people are very passionate or interested in how we’re going to reach out and get involved, the time is now.”

By April 1, 2020, Orange County households will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census and residents will have three options to respond – online, phone or by mail. Participation is required by law.

New for the 2020 Census is the ability to complete the survey online via smartphone, computer or other Internet-enabled device. Williams said that the goal is to have kiosks at all community centers where people can go to complete their survey. Residents also are encouraged to go to local libraries that have computer labs. 

Until then, anyone interested in the process is encouraged to join the Complete Count Committee.

“We want to encourage people to participate in the committee,” Williams said. “We need those trusted voices in the community to be there.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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