Alamo’s Census Debacle Resolved
City of Alamo administrators are breathing a sigh of relief after getting some good news from the U.S. Census Bureau on June 20. The city reached out to the federal government several months ago to rectify a census debacle that could have cost the municipality an estimated $1.6 million over the remainder of the current decade.
A letter sent to Alamo Mayor Pam Lee by U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Santos informed the mayor that Alamo’s issue with the 2020 census calculations had been resolved after “research found errors within the legal boundary of your government unit.”
Santos advised the City that the Census Bureau had revised housing and population counts which resulted in a current housing count of 361 units and a total population of 3,138 for the City of Alamo. In the original 2020 Census Count, the City’s total number of housing units was reported as 360 and its population was listed as 771 after the population at Wheeler Correctional Facility, located within the city limits, was omitted.
The letter noted, “The Census Bureau will use the revisions to modify the decennial census; however, the census count used for the congressional apportionment, legislative redistricting, and the 2020 Census data products will remain unchanged.” The letter also advised that if the changes affected an adjacent government unit (the county), it would receive notification regarding the revised counts.
City of Alamo administrators became aware of an issue with the 2020 Census count in October, 2022, after the State Insurance Commission allocation deposited into the City’s account was substantially less than expected. Since the allocation is based on Census data, Alamo City Manager Jeff Floyd began making calls to the U.S. Census Bureau and the State Insurance Commission in an effort to sort out the deficit. Several emails and phone calls later, Floyd surmised that the error was due to an incorrect address for the Wheeler Correctional Facility that led to a miscalculation of census data. At that point, the City had 90 days to file an appeal.
When the prison was built in 1998, it was located on property annexed by the City of Alamo, and since that time the prison population was tabulated as part of the City’s total population in the Census — up until 2020 when the Census compilation erroneously credited the prison population, that averages over 2,000 inmates, to Wheeler County. As the largest prison in the state with 3,000 beds, the prison has the potential to expand its population at any given time based on need.
Multiple funds and grants, including the state insurance premium tax, are allocated based on population reported in the Census, and municipalities like Alamo are heavily dependent on this money. The state insurance premium tax alone constitutes 20% of Alamo’s annual general fund. In 2021, this tax amounted to $232,317.69, but in 2022, the amount decreased to $64,161.17.
After the error was discovered, Floyd appealed to the Wheeler County Commission during its regular session in December 5, 2022, to return the premium insurance tax deposited into its account because of the Census error. County officials agreed to do so as soon as they received from the State Insurance Commission or other entity the exact figure for the funds in question. On May 17, 2023, the City of Alamo received a check from the County in the amount of $145,363.44.
Mayor Lee is grateful the long ordeal has come to a close. “Lord, I thank you,” she said.
Floyd credited the Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission, the State Insurance Commission, businessman Troy Windham who contacted federal legislators, and employees of City Hall for working hard to facilitate a happy ending for a big headache that might have continued until the next census taking in 2030.