- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Several Arizona cities are pursuing a mid-decade census to update their population counts, and more than $1 billion a year in state money is at stake.

The state uses official population figures to determine how much each city receives in shared revenue from sources such as income, sales and vehicle taxes.

The competitive nature of the system is pitting high-growth communities like Gilbert and Peoria against more-established cities like Phoenix and Mesa, The Arizona Republic reported (https://bit.ly/1HE9nvH ).

Peoria has projected a gain of about $1.5 million in annual funding as a result of its special census. Phoenix and Mesa, which initially declined to order a census, could lose much more than that.

When the issue last came around in the early 2000s, Arizona passed legislation giving cities multiple options by which to count their residents. A full-blown city census can be costly, so communities were also allowed to use readily available data from the Department of Economic Security to estimate populations.

When three small communities with limited resources - Prescott Valley, Page and Chino Valley - proposed the same legislation to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns last summer, the resolution was rejected.

The opposition was led by larger cities with lower growth rates that didn’t want a mid-decade update, Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said.

“We were a bit surprised at the opposition to doing what had already been done once before in the state,” Tarkowski said. “It was a bit baffling.”

Peoria has decided to spend nearly $3 million for a census update, banking on an expected $7.5 million gain in state revenue. Chandler is paying more than $4 million and expects to gain at least that much.

Gilbert, Queen Creek, Buckeye, Goodyear and Maricopa are among other cities in the region paying for a special census. Prescott Valley has moved that direction as well.

Now cities like Phoenix and Mesa that have not signed on for a census are concerned they’ll be left behind, taking a disproportionate hit in revenue as their official populations remain at 2010 levels.

Mesa has since asked the U.S. Census Bureau for a cost estimate if it were to pursue a mid-decade census, spokesman Steve Wright said.

Phoenix and Mesa are pushing for adjustments to the state’s population estimate process to improve accuracy in lieu of an expensive door-to-door count.

That solution would likely require action by the Legislature, possibly in a special session. It remains unclear if there’s enough support at the State Capitol.

On the other hand, communities like Peoria, Gilbert, Chandler, Queen Creek, Buckeye and Goodyear feel they are being asked to shift course at the eleventh hour. If new legislation renders their census efforts moot, they want to be compensated for the money they’ve spent so far.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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