By Alan Sorensen
The Hill County Commissioners Monday signed a proclamation pledging their support of the decennial census that will be taken nationwide this year.
"It's just that they wanted us to show our support for participation in the census and how important it is for acquiring grants, etc.," Commissioner Pat Conway said. "And also leading, maybe, to getting back our two (Montana) seats in the House of Representatives."
The declaration said the census is also important for determining the apportionment of seats in the Montana State Legislature and county voting districts.
The census and the demographics it discloses will impact all branches of government, large and small corporations, nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, and local businesses. They all require accurate population, family-size and income information, the declaration said, for "investment, job development, marketing guidance and determining the impact of educational, health, and social programs."
In signing the declaration, the commission voiced its hopes that all citizens in the county will support the census effort, too.
The commission also noted that all individual census information taken during the census period is confidential for 72 years. Federal law prohibits any public or private agency from gaining access to confidential census data.
The Hill County effort in collecting information for the 2000 U.S. census is under the direction of Tim Mack at the regional office in Great Falls.
"We're right in the middle of the major thrust of recruiting," Mack said in a telephone interview Thursday morning. "That's where we take applications and give the test. It's at the local Job Service or they can call a toll-free number, 888-325-7733."
Mack said the response has been good in Hill County, but that there are still positions open for census takers. No one has actually been hired to do the door-to-door head counting yet.
"Some people will be hired the middle of next month, but most will be hired at the end of February," Mack said. "On March 3, we begin census operations in Havre and Hill County and everywhere else."
Mack said that this census is intended to be performed by neighbors and that that policy extends to the area's Indian reservations including Rocky Boy. Even the 1990 census on reservations was carried out mostly by off-reservation residents, Mack said.
"I'm really excited about what we're doing," he said. "This time ... only tribal people will take the census on tribal land. You'll give information to a neighbor rather than someone from out of town."
Mack said two forms are being used to collect important data from individual households: the long form and the short form.
"The long form has more personal type information, such as what the household income is," Mack said.
Mack assures everyone that whatever information they give to the census taker will be held in strictest confidence.
"Everything is all 120 percent confidential," he said. "In the 210-year history of the bureau, there has never been a breach of confidentiality. The FBI has tried and presidents have tried, but the Supreme Court upheld the confidentiality."
Mack insists that the census is important to everyone everywhere.
"It touches everybody everyday when it's done, because (it helps determine) when roads are built, hospitals are built, ... homes are built."
By answering the questions honestly and openly, he said, residents are helping to develop the community and build a future for their kids.
"Our catch phrase is 'It's how America knows what America needs.' It's a community-building event."