As the federal government urges people to participate in the 2010 census, concern is increasing among local officials who say people are getting confused between the federal and local census and may not return one or the other.

As the federal government urges people to participate in the 2010 census, concern is increasing among local officials who say people are getting confused between the federal and local census and may not return one or the other.


Only 72 percent of U.S. households returned their forms in 2000, and in an attempt to gain more accurate numbers this time, the government has spent $133 million in a media campaign to push the count.


The federal census began arriving in mailboxes across the country last week, but it seems some people are getting confused.


As many town clerks mailed their annual town census forms earlier this year, some say they're missing a significant number of town census forms or have been flooded with phone calls asking why they have received two forms.


The same kind of confusion appeared in 2000 when in Upton, people returned their town census forms but not as many returned the federal census, and the federal government's population numbers were off by about 10 percent, said Town Clerk Kelly McElreath.


"So Upton got about 10 percent less funding," said McElreath. "It does make a difference. We could also lose or gain a seat in Washington (in the House of Representatives), because it depends on population."


McElreath said most households in Upton have already returned their town census, and she is hoping they also fill out the federal one.


"It's the shortest census in history," said McElreath. "We'll still be collecting the town census until May or June."


In Medway, Town Clerk Maryjane White said people have been calling her office and asking why they've received two census forms. She's hoping that because it is a federal census year, more people will fill out the town census as well. White said the town census' normal return is about 80 percent.


But in Bellingham, Town Clerk Ann Odabashian said she is still missing a few thousand town census return forms from when she mailed about 5,600 in the beginning of the year.


"The town census is just as important as the federal census, and we need them," she said. "It's important for the schools and for roads. We still have quite a lot out there, every day I get a bunch, but it's very slow. And now with the federal one out there, it's confusing."


Odabashian said people should still count their military family members or children in college on the town census, whereas on the federal census, it asks people not to do that.


Vacant houses have also posed a problem on the town census, said Odabashian, and federal officials agree.


There are more than 300 vacant homes in Bellingham, Odabashian said, but the town clerk's office sent census forms there anyway, in case someone is still living there or has recently moved in.


"The biggest point is eventually (if you don't return the census) you will come off the voter roll, because we don't have them as living in town," said Odabashian. "Then people get angry at us when they go to vote and they're not there. But if you haven't returned it, we think you're gone."


Milford Town Clerk Amy Hennessy Neves said that so far the returns on the town census have been normal - at about 80 or 85 percent - but she has also gotten a few calls from confused residents.


"We just instruct them that a federal census comes every 10 years, too," she said. "We have a lot of (forms) back but we'll hold off on entering the data until after the (April 5) election."


Most town clerks send out second notices or make phone calls to households which haven't returned their census, while anyone who hasn't returned a federal census will get a census-taker on their doorstep.


"Returning your census is a good way to avoid someone going to your house," said McElreath.


In Franklin, Town Clerk Deborah Pellegri said the town's return rates are typically at about 98 percent and have stayed that way despite it being a federal census year.


"We sent it out at the end of December," said Pellegri. "We do send out a second notice and phone calls after that, but it's very accurate."


Krista Perry can be reached at kperry@cnc.com or 508-634-7546.