WILLCOX — The city of Willcox has a bit of a population problem. Some of its citizens did not fill out their census form.

According to City Manager Caleb Blaschke, some 30% to 60% of Willcox’s households did not return their 2020 Census forms, thereby skewing the city’s population count to a lower number and skewing income numbers to a higher average, thus reducing the amount of money Willcox can get from the federal and state governments and tax revenues. The reduced count also inhibits Willcox’s ability to get grant monies.

“This isn’t the best of news; I wish it were better,” Blaschke told the city council at last week’s city council meeting. “We just got information from the census and our population count dropped about 300 people, 320, so that’s a loss of revenue of about $120,000 a year.”

However, because the city has always budgeted fairly conservatively, the drop is not a major problem yet.

“Where it really hurts us is if there’s ever a recession or something like that, that’s when all those (monies) dip because of our population count,” Blaschke said.

As it stands, the city’s income has dropped to 2018-2019 levels.

The nearly 10 percent drop in population means a drop in state-shared revenues, basically legislation monies that’s distributed based on census count; vehicle license tax; sales tax; and income tax to name a few sources of revenue.

“We’re at 3,200 (in population), so you can imagine if people actually filled out the census and we got to, like, 4,000, we would be seeing an increase of probably almost $150,000 to $180,000 a year in these different funds,” he said.

Overall, the census count went down from 3,533 to 3,213, which results in an estimated revenue loss at $128,000. That comes to about $400 per person per year in just direct cost to the city, and is 9.1% of the city’s revenue, which Blaschke said is all due to undercount.

“In addition, schools are affected by the census, healthcare is affected by the census, WIC, other government programs,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons Child Care Assistance Program left, one of the reasons why Department of Economic Security left, because they had these numbers they were looking at, and they had to go where there’s more population.”

Blaschke’s response to the numbers was to email (D-AZ) Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, asking what the city can do about this, because he knows the federal government’s numbers are wrong. Businesses are flourishing, and there is not one single vacant home in the city, he said.

“It used to be that the federal government really took control of the census to make sure everyone was counted,” Blaschke said. “They didn’t do that with the last presidency; they left it up to more local groups.”

The city had an advertising campaign encouraging people to fill out their census forms, but despite that, many still did not participate. The federal government was supposed to send out census enumerators to follow up with them. However, no one ever came to Willcox, probably because of COVID, Blaschke said. “They just kept sending out mailers and people don’t always answer those,” he said.

That leaves a significant deficit, according to Blaschke.

“The census estimates that the Willcox area, not even the big area outside, just our footprint right here, is between 30% and 58% undercounted,” he said, “so they recognize we’re undercounted.”

There are a couple of reasons for this, Blaschke said.

“Low income areas, less educated areas, tend to not fill out those types of surveys with the government, so more fluent, educated areas tend to fill that kind of information out because they know the value of it. The money then ends up going to the bigger cities again,” he said. “The other reason is a lot of Hispanic groups are not trustful of the government and so they don’t fill out that information either.”

What is to be done then?

Blaschke said for $120,000 it is worth it to do another door to door census, a process he had to go through recently to get Community Development Block Grant money. If he can prove what he believes is the true population and income level of the city, Blaschke believes the city will qualify for more monies.

“I don’t even think it’s $120,000,” he said. “We’re missing out on such a much larger population that we’re really fighting for, like, $200,000 to $250,000 with the loss of money plus the money that we would gain.”