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Recount boosts resident roster

SNOQUALMIE - The city's census recount is now complete, and the result is a year 2000 population count that's at least 500 residents higher than federal Census Bureau's figures.

"We got it done, and in my mind it was very successful, especially since Snoqualmie has never done this before," said Rhonda Montgomery, city permit administrator and census organizer. "Our citizens were so nice; they knew we were coming to count them and were ready for us."

When the city received its 2000 population figures from the federal Census Bureau last month, officials knew the numbers were incorrect. The count was 1,631 - about 700 people short of what was predicted - so they decided to conduct their own census.

They turned out to be right. The number of residents as of April 1, 2000, has been determined by the city to be 2,150, which is 519 more than federal figures. However, this number could grow because it will take time to figure out any discrepancies between those who said they didn't live in Snoqualmie at that time and the previous owners of their houses who were Snoqualmie residents during 2000.

The city needed to count its population because to accept the low federal number would mean losing out on state funding that goes to services such as fire, police, parks and road repairs, as well as the overall city budget. The city has already lost more than two months' worth of state funding because of the low count. In addition, a city's population count is used to determine representation in the Legislature, and the 2000 figure is used as a base for which population growth is added to for the next decade.

Because of these factors, Snoqualmie officials wanted their population count to be as accurate as possible.

"Having accurate data is important for planning and other things, too," Montgomery said, explaining that when planning for future schools, streets and even stoplights, the city needs to know population patterns and concentrations so it can adequately serve its residents.

Snoqualmie's current population, or the number of residents living in the city as of April 1, 2001, is 3,416. This number was sent to the state's Office of Financial Management (OFM), the agency that distributes money to cities, and OFM officials will use the new number in determining future funding.

The city will also submit its 2000 population count to the Census Bureau for its Census Question Resolution program, which starts in June and gives cities that have low counts the chance to dispute federal figures.

The city's recount had other benefits, as well.

"It was a good opportunity for us to get to know the city," Montgomery said. "And it was a great team-building opportunity for the city staff."

It took 34 city staffers and eight resident volunteers less than a week to count Snoqualmie's population. Within two days, they had knocked on all of the city's residential doors. For those who weren't home, a flier was left on the doorknob, and census workers, headquartered at the fire station, waited for those residents to call back. In all, the process took about a week.

Despite what officials originally thought, the city did not have to shut down. The remaining city employees, 31 of them, worked their regular jobs. Of those participating in the census, some worked all day and helped count at night; others worked at the city for half a day and went door to door in the afternoon; and still others had to take a week off of their regular duties to conduct the count.

Snoqualmie's mayor, Fuzzy Fletcher, appreciated the way staff pulled together to finish the recount as quickly as possible.

"They responded very quickly and favorably to the request for help. They spent late evenings and weekends, not just on city time, but on their own time. I'm very proud of the way the staff responded," he said.

At a recent City Council meeting, elected officials thanked city staff and local volunteers.

"I'd just like to give my personal thanks to everyone that was involved in that [the census]," said Councilman Frank Lonergan. "It's just one of those things that makes me proud to say I'm a councilman for the city of Snoqualmie."

"The preparation alone to do the census was just mind-boggling," said Councilwoman Colleen Johnson.

The city chose to use its workers and volunteers as opposed to paying a consultant, a cost that could run upward of $30,000. The city of Newcastle, which also conducted its own census to dispute federal figures, spent $40,000 on a consultant to count its population, and it turned out the Census Bureau had been right all along.

Statewide, approximately 30 cities chose to conduct their own census this year. At least half of those cities recounted because they disagreed with the Census Bureau's figures.

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