- Associated Press - Monday, March 2, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Community leaders in North Dakota’s oil patch areas are ramping up efforts to encourage census involvement, noting that population totals have a decade-long impact on federal funding.

County officials are hoping the next census, which begins this month, accurately reflects their population size, the Bismarck Tribune reported. Since the shale oil boom in places like Williston and Watford City, the population increase has not matched their official census counts.

“It’s really important to our local communities for people to participate in the census because these numbers have a 10-year impact, and there are no go-backs,” said Lindsey Harriman, co-chair of the Williams County Complete Count Committee. “We don’t get to update these numbers halfway through. We want to make sure we get it right this time.”

Williams County, which includes Williston, had 22,398 people for the 2010 census. Harriman suspects the number was lower than the county’s actual population at the time, which is when the oil boom started.

Officials estimate that Williams County has more than 47,000 residents today, Harriman said. Under counting is also a concern in McKenzie County, where Watford City is located. McKenzie’s census count was 6,360 people in 2010.

But Vawnita Best, co-chairwoman of the McKenzie County Complete Count Committee, said McKenzie County officials believe the current population is about 27,000.

Oil workers have lived in a mix of housing, including hotels, apartments, campsites, recreational vehicle parks and crew camps. They usually work for several weeks, get a week or so off, and then return home to other states. Although housing is more regulated now, those factors still contribute to census inaccuracies.

Census promoters want workers to know that they should be counted where they spend most of their time not what is listed on their identification cards.

“It doesn’t matter what your driver’s license says, what your hunting license says or whether or not you’re related to the people you live with,” Harriman said.

Harriman said that the committees have hosted events with community partners to encourage participation, and they often meet with businesses to stress the significance of getting a full count in the state.

In McKenzie County, people might receive census-themed items from local venues and businesses in the community.

State officials estimate that each person unaccounted for is a loss of $19,000 in federal funds over the 10-year period, which could be used for roads, social services and other programs.

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