The 2020 census is still months away, but the city of Boise is preparing now to make sure every person in the city gets counted.
The Boise City Council could approve as much as $100,000 in spending on an informational campaign to encourage people to fill out the census forms, which will be available online (in addition to phone and paper options) for the first time next year.
That money could go toward everything from radio ads and billboards to staffing for a “Census Day” event where organizers give out swag and help promote the importance of the census.
At a work session Tuesday, council members suggested that could be a worthwhile expense. Each person counted brings in $1,473 in federal funds per year to the state, said Wayne Rysavy, communications manager for the Planning and Development Services Department.
An accurate count of Boiseans would help to ensure that much of that money returns to the city, he said. Census numbers also help to shape decisions in policy and investment for government officials and business leaders.
Rysavy, joined by Tom Laws, an associate comprehensive planner for the city, presented the City Council with three “tiered” options to get out the message.
The first tier would cost $25,000. It would include Spanish translation, ads in print and digital media, inserts into utility bills and handouts at local libraries and events like Treefort.
The second tier would cost $50,000 and would include expanded versions of the first tier as well as money to pay canvassers to hold the Census Day event.
The third tier, which city staffers recommended, would cost $100,000. It would also fund the event day as well as more months of advertising, including $9,000 in billboards around the city. The total amount would be made back for the city if it led to 68 people being counted, Rysavy said.
In comparison, COMPASS is spending about $50,000 to promote the census regionally, according to city reports.
To get as close as possible to an accurate count, the city plans to form a committee of local community leaders, including those from the school system, faith-based organizations, government agencies, nonprofits and others. The goal would be to encourage people who might not otherwise participate in the census to take part.
Council member Lisa Sánchez said the inclusion of informal leaders is crucial.
“I know that there are a lot of communities that fear census takers,” Sánchez said. “And I find from my own personal experience having grown up in Burley, my mom was one of those informal community leaders. She didn’t have a title, but any time any issue like this came up ... people knew to turn to my mom.”
Those kinds of leaders are important because the city can “piggyback on their credibility,” Sánchez said. She also offered to help translate materials into Spanish and asked to be included in any meetings about specific outreach to the Hispanic and Latino communities.
Mayor David Bieter said that more important than return on investment is getting an accurate count for the city, although he wasn’t certain the way the money was allocated for specific items was the best idea.
“I think the number is right. I think the way we allotted may not be,” he said.
City Council President Lauren McLean said she agreed that “spending as much as necessary to get the fullest count is really important.” She asked that city staffers seek out best practices from other governments and agencies to figure out where the money would be most effectively used.
If funded, the city’s public communications push will begin in January. The City Council hasn’t yet approved any specific spending on the information campaign. If it does, city officials would check in periodically to keep the council updated on what money has been spent and where, and adjustments could be made.
Census Day in Boise and across the country is April 1, 2020.