URSA, Ill. — Ursa Village Board President Mark Homan can't explain it, but residents in the hamlet have rallied in recent weeks, and now it boasts one of the highest census response rates in the state. "We have just tried to put it out there as often as we can reminding people to make sure they complete their census form," Homan said.
"You have to remind people because people lay it aside and forget about it. Just like you have to remind people about paying their water bill, you need to remind people about the census."
He explained that city leaders have posted reminders in utility bills, on social media accounts and the city's telephone messaging service to remind residents about the census.
Since mid-March, when the once-a-decade count kicked off, 79.7% of residents have submitted their census forms so far, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The community's response rate leads all Adams County communities and ranks 93rd in a statewide list of 1,291 municipalities.
"I think that is just great. I'll take that as a good sign that our citizens care about Ursa's future," said Homan, who also credits television, radio and newspaper advertising done by Quincy's Complete Count Committee for bolstering the community's response rate.
Response rates are calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau using data from the American Community Survey, which is completed before the nationwide count. The survey, also done by the federal government, provides population estimates for each state, county and municipality in the nation based on the previous census and other data.
Across the county, the village of Golden also has reason to celebrate as the latest update from the U.S. Census Bureau has the community's response rate of 74.9%, ranking 250th in the state.
"That is awesome, though I am not surprised," said Roger Flesner, village board president. "The people in Golden are pretty reliable, if they want something for their community then they are going to make it happen. The people here are very well versed in how the government works and how we can do our part to make sure our tax dollars come back to our community through the census."
The village board also partnered with the Greater West Central Library in Golden to assist those without internet access to respond to the census, which for the first time is largely being completed online.
Responses to census questions on background and residents are used to determine population, how citizens are represented in Congress, how state legislative districts are drawn and where more than $131 billion in federal funding to Illinois will go. The federal aid is distributed to more than 316 federal programs involving schools, road construction, health care, low-income housing, food pantries and emergency services.
An undercount, a term used to describe residents who choose not to respond to the census, can cost the state thousands, if not millions, of dollars, according to a 2017 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report details how $1 out every $3 in the state's budget comes from the federal government.
There are also concerns that a lower-than-expected count could cost Illinois a seat in its congressional delegation, potentially weakening Quincy and Adams County's position to wield influence in a new, larger geographic congressional district.
To help combat these concerns, Quincy city leaders hope to see Adams County and Quincy's response rate top 90%. Currently, the county's response rate is 72.1%, which ranks as 15th best in the state, but that is still below the county's 80% response rate in 2010.
Similarly, Quincy's response rate has almost flatlined since mid-May when it was 69.1%. As of Friday, the city's response rate was 70.9%.
Chuck Bevelheimer, Quincy's planning and development director, has been tasked by Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore to lead the city's census response rate campaign. He said earlier this month that the city is going to continue to try and reach those residents who have not responded n hopes of causing a surge.
Bevelheimer said the city will likely see a 10% jump in response rates once the door-to-door census takers begin to canvass neighborhoods in August.
"In the meantime, we are going to do everything we can to help get the word out about the importance of the census," Bevelheimer said.
Residents can respond to the 2020 Census over the phone, by mail or through an online questionnaire at 2020census.gov. The telephone number to complete the census is 1-844-330-2020. A Spanish-language phone line is at 844-468-2020. The phone lines are staffed by trained enumerators, or census takers, from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Bevelheimer said earlier this month that he was impressed by the response rates in Ursa and Golden, which he said play a significant part in calculating the county's response rate.
"The importance of getting high response rates from those smaller communities can't be overstated. Quincy needs them to have high response rates, just like they need Quincy to have a high response rate," Bevelheimer said.
Inside Adams County, other community response rates include: Columbus, 72.9%; Plainville, 70.1%; Mendon, 69.3%; Camp Point, 69.1%; Payson, 68.1%; Coatsburg, 64.6%; Loraine, 64.5%; Liberty, 57.4%; La Prairie, 56.3%; Clayton, 55.4%; and Lima, 48.5%, which is one of the lowest response rates in the state, ranking 1,172nd.
Response rates in adjoining counties are Hancock County, 63.5%; Brown County, 59.7%; Schuyler County, 62.5%; Pike County, 60.5%; and Calhoun County, 38.1%, which is the second-lowest response rate in the state, besting Hardin County.
In Northeast Missouri, Marion County continues to have the highest response rate with 65.6%, but rates have slowed only increasing by five-tenths of a percentage point since June 5. Other response rates in the region are: Scotland County, 61.5%; Pike County, 60%; Lewis County, 59.6%; Ralls County, 58.6%; Shelby County, 57.7%; Monroe County, 52.6%; Clark County, 51.7%; and Knox County, 49.2%.
The deadline to respond to the census is Oct. 31, which has been pushed back due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, which is giving community leaders like Homan and Flesner more time to strengthen response rates in Ursa and Golden, where Flesner hopes to end the census with the highest response rate in the state. Trout Valley, a village in McHenry County, now holds the top spot with a response rate of 89.3%.
"That would be awesome (to have the highest response rate). I think it would only recognize Golden further as a well-working community, filled with people that through communication are willing to do whatever it can to improve," Flesner said. "We are a bedroom community, but there is still lots of community pride still here, and I think you can see our response to the census as evidence of that."