Officials move to fix Rockwell City mistake

ROCKWELL CITY The 2010 U.S. Census shortchanged Rockwell City in population and, in subsequent years, state road money distributed according to how many people live in a community.

About three years after the head count was taken, the Census Bureau is now offering a solution that will add 507 people to the community’s population figures.

State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, has introduced a bill that would allow that number to be used when determining how much Road Use Tax money the city will receive.

Rockwell City Mayor Phil Heinlen said Tuesday that the census error cost his community about $48,000 a year in Road Use Tax money. He said he’s hopeful that the situation will soon be resolved

The 2010 census figures showed the population of the Calhoun County city dropping by 24.5 percent, or 555 people, since the 2000 census.

In 2010, the count was 1,709. In 2000, it was 2,264.

Within hours of receiving the 2010 results, local officials noted that the drop in population was nearly equal to the number of inmates in the North Central Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison in the city limits.

State officials have previously said that inmates are to be counted as residents of the community where the prison is located.

When a census is conducted each community is divided into sections called census blocks and the people in each block are counted. Beall said the 2010 census results show no people living in the six census blocks that include the prison on the city’s east side.

”We’re not asking for any gift,” Heinlen said. ”We’re just asking for the same thing that every other community that has a prison in its corporate limits gets. That’s all.”

City officials filed an appeal with the U.S. Census Bureau in 2011.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, recently received a letter from Thomas L. Mesenbourg Jr., the acting director of the Census Bureau. In the letter, Mesenbourg acknowledged that the count for Rockwell City was incomplete.

However, instead of correcting the actual census count, he concluded that the proper action would be to add 507 people to a different data set called the annual estimate of resident population for incorporated places.

That move gives Rockwell City a population of 2,216 as of April 1, 2010.

”This is a simple matter of ensuring Rockwell City and Calhoun County get their fair share of highway formula funds based on population,” Harkin said in a written statement. ”Residents of this area should not be shortchanged by this Census Bureau error.”

Harkin added that the Census Bureau has ”now correctly indicated the population of Rockwell City on Census Day in the hope that the Iowa legislature would take appropriate action to use the right population in its allocation of highway funds.”

Beall’s legislation states that whenever the population of any city is referred to in state law, the number to be used must be whichever is larger: the census or the annual estimate of resident population as of April 1, 2010. The law would be in effect until March 31, 2020.

”I will continue to work tirelessly to resolve this matter,” Beall said.

He said Tuesday afternoon that state Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, has agreed to facilitate the bill if it reaches the House of Representatives. The measure still awaits action in the Senate.