July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:29 PM
"Natalina Hobson says she and her neighbors in the Harbor View Park mobile homes are starting to get nervous.In mid-March, they got a notice that census forms were on the way, she said. But now, two weeks later, they have no forms to fill out so they can be counted.We're all curious,'' she said this week. Are we going to be in this census or not?''The answer, local census director Mary Lisenbery said Friday, is yes - Hobson and others who did not receive forms in the mail will ultimately be counted. But Hobson is not alone. The Oak Harbor Post Office sent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds'' of census forms back to the U.S. Census Bureau last month, mostly because they had addressing problems, supervisor Randy Bennett said.Lisenbery said her Mount Vernon office has fielded about 165 calls so far from people who did not get forms in the mail.The lack of forms may be disturbing for some of the people who know that a full count can mean millions of dollars in federal funds for local governments and social service programs, Lisenbery said, but panic buttons aren't going off in the Census office. In fact, most of the holes in form delivery are part of the planned census process.Because the census tries to count housing units as well as people, the Postal Service was asked not to deliver forms to people who use postal boxes for mailing addresses, or forms that had problems with their address labels, Lisenbery said.People in those houses will still be counted, she said. But they will likely have to be counted later this month when the Census Bureau sends hired census takers into the field to contact people in all the homes that did not return forms.So far, she said, 44 percent of the census forms mailed to Island County residents have been filled out and returned. The bureau is hoping for a 64-percent return rate before the April 11 deadline.The national return rate so far is running at 49 percent, as is Washington state's, Lisenbery said.People who have not gotten forms yet could still fill one out and mail it in, but they would have to go through a somewhat cumbersome process to actually get the form counted, Lisenbery said. Forms are available on the Internet at the Census Bureau's web site, and at the Oak Harbor Senior Center and at the Oak Harbor Library, but they won't be counted unless they include the geocode,'' or bar code, that accompanies Census Bureau mailings to individual homes.The bar codes were included on mailings that announced that census forms would soon arrive in the mail, like the one Hobson receieved, Lisenbery said. People who kept those mailings could fill out blank forms and simply attach the bar codes to it. Or they could fill out a form on the web site and type in the numbers that accompany the bar code.Or, they could wait for a census taker to knock on their door. Crews will begin working in the last two months of April, Lisenbery said.I think that would be the simplest thing to do,'' Hobson said Friday after a reporter explained the process to her. The rest of it sounds too complicated.''"