A lot can change in ten years. In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, I didn’t have grandkids and the population of Arkansas was less than three million. Now, tablets are as important as pencils and I have four grandchildren who are part of an estimated 100,000 additional people in Arkansas.
Recognizing and analyzing these trends is critical as our state plans for the future. When you think about paving roads, building schools and having enough hospitals, it is important to keep that degree of population growth – and potential future additions – in mind.
Although they could not have imagined the growth of America over the last 244 years, our Founding Fathers did understand the importance of counting our people to make sure we are properly represented in Congress. The U.S. Census occurs every ten years and is mandated by our Constitution. In addition to determining the distribution of billions of federal dollars, it impacts how lines are drawn for congressional districts and the number of U.S. Representatives serving each state.
Since the first census in 1790, a lot has changed in how we collect data and what information is sought. There are several new things about the 2020 Census, including the role of technology. For the first time, many Americans will submit their information online. For Arkansans who do not have access to a computer or simply prefer to use paper forms, we all still have the option of completing our civic duty on paper, over the phone or in person with a Census official. However, for those who hope to get it done faster, the online option will be the easiest. In fact, households that reply online after receiving the first notices in March won’t have to worry about additional mail, calls or visits by Census employees.
The importance of getting an accurate count is reflected in the work of statewide initiatives like Arkansas Counts and the creation of the Arkansas Complete Count Committee. Governor Hutchinson launched this committee last summer to promote participation and provide suggestions on how to reach hard-to-count communities.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 15 percent of Arkansans are considered hard-to-count. The agency says some of the difficult-to-count populations include low-income individuals, non-English speakers and minorities. That makes the work of the committee so crucial. I am grateful for the hard work of this committee, under the leadership of Fort Smith Mayor George McGill.
In 2010, Arkansas ranked 38th in Census participation. This means we left billions of dollars on the table that could have been used for critical projects like highway construction, rural broadband and water systems. It is important that we all do our part this year to make sure our fair share of funding stays in the Natural State.
The initial letters from the Census Bureau will start arriving in March 2020, with the entire process completed by fall. It is time for us all to be counted, including my grandchildren.
For that reason, the legislature enacted new laws allowing vacancies on levee boards to be filled. It’s also why the task force recommended that all levee district board positions be filled, through procedures set out in state law.
State aid should be a financial incentive for levee districts to sign up for federal programs that provide the bulk of funding for repairs. In order to qualify for those federal dollars, the boards of levee districts need to maintain their active status over the long term. The areas protected must be assessed accurately.
The task force recommended that the state GIS Office continue to work with county officials and levee districts to help them draw up-to-date maps showing the boundaries of levee districts and the property that is protected by levees.
If it makes sense to merge two or more levee districts, that decision should be made at the local level, the task force recommended.
All levee districts should use a standard form when they monitor and report on the condition of levees.
In related development, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission approved $8.8 million in grants for 14 local districts.
The task force report cautioned that even after levees are repaired and meet federal standards, they might be breached by historic levels of flooding. The 2019 floods in Arkansas were the result of heavy rains in Oklahoma and southeast Kansas that were 400 to 600 % higher than normal. Runoff from those storms was estimated to be four times the capacity of Oklahoma reservoirs.