Stand up and be counted! Weehawken to unleash a campaign urging residents to complete census forms

When the U.S. Census Bureau sent out its first forms in a decade Monday, asking citizens to fill out a form so a proper population count could be tabulated, it didn’t take Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner long to get the wheels in motion. Turner knows full well that an accurate account of the township’s residents is vital. In fact, the township had already been making preparations for Census 2000, making sure that every resident in the town stands up and gets counted. It’s not just a federal government form to be tossed aside and forgotten about. The census has a vital role and can be beneficial to the township. “People don’t realize just how important the census is,” Turner said. “Many of the federal school aid and municipal aid programs are based on population. For an urban area like Weehawken, it’s extremely important, because if we don’t have the necessary population numbers, then we’re not eligible for the aid.” Turner pointed out an example with Community Development Block Grants. “Weehawken is part of the Hudson County consortium in terms of CDBGs,” Turner said. “And we’re considered a smaller community with a different designation from the federal government.” With the possible loss of federal funds, Turner said that it could affect the quality of life for Weehawken residents. “It would cut back on street and road repairs and we end up doing less and less projects, because the funding is not available,” Turner said. “There’s usually an equal distribution of the funding, but it’s based on population. “And Weehawken always gets the short shift, because is based on population and not commuters that pass through,” Turner added. “The number of people who pass through the town daily is nowhere near the population, yet we have to worry about fixing the streets, roads, the general area.” Turner also pointed out how participation in the census has an effect on the legislative process. “It could very well decide which district you’re in, in terms of every level, from United States Congress on down to the municipal level,” Turner explained. “By rule of thumb, there’s a re-districting process after the census every 10 years. Even on our own level. Wards gain and lose depending upon the census. It really effects everything.” That’s why Turner and other members of the township government have begun an all-out assault to get residents to participate in the census. There are several programs underway to help people with the census forms, to make sure that they get filled out properly and returned in a timely fashion. The first results have to be filed by April 1. The final count will then be decided by August. It is believed, because of new development over the last 10 years, that Weehawken’s population number should rise approximately to somewhere between 1,000-to 1,500 residents, from the latest 12,385 tallied in 1990 to the latest figure that will be attained this year. Second Ward Councilwoman Rosemary Lavagnino has been Weehawken’s representative for Hudson County census meetings. Juvenile Officer Raul Gonzalez has also been instrumental in getting the word out, especially to Hispanic residents, who may be fearful of the census process. “I have to try to alleviate the fears,” Gonzalez said. “They have this fear that filling out the census will have someone blow the whistle on them. But it’s all about confidentiality. Going into the schools will help a lot, because the kids will be able to bring the message back home. It may look like an intrusion into your home, but it’s not. The information doesn’t go to a landlord, or to police. It only goes to the census.” “The biggest problem we seem to have is that immigrants are afraid to be counted,” Turner said. “But we have to assure them that it has nothing to do with immigration. By law, any information given is restricted only to the census and is strictly confidential.” People are also under the assumption that filling out the census will lead to jury duty. Turner assured that the census had nothing to do with the jury selection process. Turner said the township has set up census informational sites at the Senior Nutritional Center on Highwood Avenue, the Weehawken Free Public Library on Hauxhurst Avenue and each of the senior citizen buildings in the township. “We will always have someone available to answer questions, if people have problems with filling out the forms,” Turner said. “We will also start campaigning in the schools with a complete awareness campaign. Do it now, before you forget. Fill it out and send it back quickly.” “It takes perhaps 10 minutes to fill out,” Gonzalez said. “I went to a forum recently that said that two million children were uncounted in the last census. It will have a severe impact on the way the government allocates money. It’s crucial that everyone participate. I’ve spoken with a lot of people and they had no idea how important it was.” Turner wants to make sure that residents understand the importance of filling out the census form quickly and correctly. “We will continue to make a major push between now and August,” Turner said, “to get the word out. We’re placing a major importance on it. If you don’t report, then your home is considered vacant. You simply don’t exist. The last time we had the census, we were heavily undercounted and that hurt us. We’re concentrating on getting it done right this time. If for no other reason than we want to have the political weight of Weehawken felt.”


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