Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times Macon County Mayor Steve Jones signs a proclamation asking all local governments and citizens to prepare and plan for the 2020 Census. Also pictured: Sherry Jackson, partnership specialist for the Philadelphia Regional Census Center.

Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times

Macon County Mayor Steve Jones signs a proclamation asking all local governments and citizens to prepare and plan for the 2020 Census. Also pictured: Sherry Jackson, partnership specialist for the Philadelphia Regional Census Center.

Macon County Mayor Steve Jones is confident that the 2020 U.S. Census will reflect population growth and increased funding for the county, and that has kickstarted a year-long effort to encourage locals to respond.

The Macon County Complete Count Committee, a volunteer partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, aims to build a presence in the community leading up to Census Day on April 1, 2020.

"It's hard to get a good count because a lot of people feel that their information ... they don't trust the privacy," Jones said. "It is strictly private, and we have to sign contracts for the information that we give them. They are very confidential. It's all about getting a good strong count that we feel is accurate for our county."

If the census count is higher, Jones hopes the county can receive additional federal funding toward issues facing the county, primarily water and roads.

"We've got 290 miles of road that doesn't have water in Macon County," Jones said. "All departments -- education, emergency services and public utilities -- all are strained by growth and could (also) use more funding from the federal government."

Sherry Jackson, a partnership specialist for the Philadelphia Regional Census Center, said that $675 billion in federal funding is distributed based on census data.

"George Washington University did a study (in March 2018, based on Fiscal Year 2015) where they looked at each state and what it would mean to miss one person," Jackson said. "For Tennessee, it's $1,091 every year for 10 years (per uncounted person)."

Jackson has been working with Jones to help set up the Complete Count Committee and plans to stay involved as the initiative takes shape.

"We're on a year-long education and motivation campaign to encourage everyone," Jackson said. "We want to increase the response rate so (Macon County census employees) aren't knocking on as many doors in the fall."

The committee will be made up volunteers from various county organizations and is expected to have a presence at events and festivals leading up to the census date.

"We'll be using the activities taking place in the next several months," Jones said. "You've got Makin' Macon Fit, the Folk Medicine Festival, Hillbilly Days, plus the car shows, the fair and all those things."

Although there are many demographics that make up a census, Jackson said that one particularly challenging group to count is children younger than 5 years old.

"If you miss a 3-year-old in the census, it's going to be 10 years before you have another chance to count that child," Jackson said. "They've used your schools, your hospitals, your health departments ... and you've had no dollars attached to that child."

Another function of Complete Count Committees, which have been established across the U.S., is to brainstorm outreach efforts that can reach those harder to count populations.

"Any kind of federal grant that comes through is tied to census numbers, whether it be agriculture, education or utility-type grants," Jones said. "It's not only about the number of people. It's also about demographics and income level. We (want to) ... start looking at how to market the 2020 census to the public so that they realize how important it is to our county and the revenue coming in."

In addition to revenue, census data is directly tied to the number of seats a state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"In 2000, we had nine seats in the state of Tennessee, and in 2010, with our count we remained at nine seats," Jackson said. "There's a very good possibility that we will be picking up seats in 2020."

Jones said the next step is an interest meeting scheduled from 10 a.m. until noon on May 8 at Lafayette City Hall, from which the committee will begin to form.

"Anyone that's interested is welcome to be there, because the whole deal is to get everybody involved," Jones said. "This is not unique to one organization. It's multiple entities in the county helping. You've got the Hispanic community, veterans, the homeless, senior citizens ... the bottom line is that we need everyone to know it's a good thing for our county to get a good census count."