Some resist Como survey
Published 9:34 am Friday, November 17, 2017
Some resist Como survey
By John Howell
Resistance to completing a special census now underway in Como could cost town taxpayers an extra $1.44 million on a $4.8 million project to rebuild the town’s sewage lagoon and infrastructure, according to Mayor Everette Hill.
Annie Perry-Smith, special census supervisor, said that she and three co-workers had encountered unexpected resistance from citizens reluctant to complete the survey because of privacy concerns and other misinformation.
Perry-Smith spoke during Como’s monthly meeting of town officials to encourage residents to complete the surveys and return them to town hall.
“There is bogus information being given,” Perry-Smith said. “The Town of Como and City Hall do not have anything to do with this census. The census is being done by a group that was approved by the Mississippi State Dept. of Health.
“This is just ridiculous,” Perry-Smith continued, “that I have to come to a board meeting to beg people to complete a survey. She said that only 175 of the 300 minimum number of surveys had been completed.
At stake is how much of a $4.8 million USDA sewer rehabilitation project that the town will have to repay as a loan, according to Hill. If information gathered during the special census can show that the town’s median annual household income is $400 lower than the $31,000 determined by the 2010 Decennial Census, it could decrease the amount Como would have to repay by up to $1.44 million.
Como elected officials and North Delta Planning and Development District (NDPDD) Program Specialist Lillian Morris-Hilson believe that the Como median household income figure of slightly over $31,000 is not accurate and too high. The median annual household income amount was determined by the 2010 census.
“I have lived in Panola County all my life, and I greatly disagree with that,” Morris-Hilson told Como officials at their October meeting.
Using 2010 income figures, Como will have to repay 55 percent or $2.64 million of the $4.8 million from USDA as a loan, and it will receive 45 percent as a grant. If a lower median annual household income can be substantiated by the special census now underway, Como could qualify for a grant of up to 75 percent or $3.6 million, leaving 25 percent or $1.2 million to be repaid as a loan.
Perry-Smith said that the sewage problem in Como has become acute, with effluent containing human feces backing up into yards and, in some cases, homes.
“People are already telling me that they can hardly wash because raw sewage is coming up in their washing machines,” she said.
Como has been ordered by the EPA to rebuild its sewer system to bring it into compliance with clean water requirements.
Perry-Smith has been certified through NDPDD to supervise the survey for USDA. She and three workers are going door-to-door to encourage completion of the five-question surveys.
“No one within the city could do the survey because that would be a conflict of interest,” said Perry-Smith, who, along with her co-workers, do not live in Como corporate limits.
“I guess the problem with the thing is … that it asks for a little bit too specific information,” said Como resident Abner Young, who was among citizens attending Tuesday’s meeting.
Young asked about who requires the specific financial information in the survey.
“USDA required that,” Mayor Hill replied.
Young also said that he was concerned about who sees the information and what protects confidentiality.
Completed surveys are mailed to Como city hall where they will remain sealed, according to Perry-Smith.
Como residents have about a month, according to the census survey supervisor, to complete the surveys and return them to city hall.
“For right now, the surveys are numbered,” Perry-Smith continued. “When USDA comes in, they’re going to compare the numbers to make sure we have the minimum amount that we have to have, and then they will be opened, after USDA comes in. The Town of Como, they can’t open any envelopes or anything.”
The mayor urged citizens attending Tuesday’s meeting to help spread the word about completing the survey.
“People who are here should see to it that this information goes into their church bulletin because that would get the information to a lot of people that would not normally see it,” said a member of the audience. “A lot of people go to the different churches in this community.”