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Tiny tony town no longer rates a zero

The 2000 Census didn't recognize Belleair Shore. Now the feds have, though not quite accurately.

By MONIQUE SIMPSON
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002


BELLEAIR SHORE -- It might be reasonable to expect an accurate count of heads in a community that covers barely 1 mile. But even determining the number of houses has proven to be a challenge.

The 2000 Census failed to report the existence of life and homes here, so federal officials have tried to make amends.

Statistics recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that 75 people and 63 houses (15 of them vacant) occupy the waterfront town. But Mayor John Robertson disagrees; there are 52 houses and four under construction. How does he know?

"I counted them," he said with a chuckle.

The population should be greater than reported, Robertson said. Belleair Shore had 93 registered voters in May 2000, according to the Pinellas County Elections Office.

The mayor plans to write a letter to the bureau about the new errors. Nonetheless, he is satisfied that the town's numbers are up from zero.

"At least we have 75 people recognized by the Census Bureau," Robertson said. "We're no longer a joke. We have real people."

The town originally was reported as uninhabited because of an incorrect boundary line between Belleair Shore and Belleair Beach on the Census Bureau map, said spokesman Edison Gore.

After Robertson wrote to the bureau's Count Question Resolution program, the department compared its maps and address lists with Robertson's and found the error. Census data for both Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore have been adjusted.

Belleair Beach's population has been reduced from 1,751 to 1,632, and there are 1,252 homes (241 of them vacant).

About half a dozen municipalities nationwide were recorded as having no population, Gore said. Among them: Ohlman Village, Ill.; Hanksville, Utah; Bean Station, Tenn.; and Grantsboro, N.C.

Bureau officials said they have received about 500 complaints from cities about the census results. In the majority of cases, people were counted in the wrong jurisdiction, Gore said. The number is down from the 5,000 complaints about the 1990 census, he said.

Although errors in Belleair Shore's population and housing have been corrected in the census, other demographics, such as ethnicity and education, cannot be measured because the department does not have the money or time, Gore said.

Many cities use the census when applying for federal and state programs. Belleair Shore has not applied for any programs, and Robertson said the town -- where the average home value is better than $1-million, according to the Property Appraiser's Office -- has no such plans.

For some town residents, the new data represent closure to an embarrassing incident. Others are simply pleased that the federal government has a record of Belleair Shore's existence.

"Given the size of our town and the sheer numbers they're working with, they are going to look over some," said Chris Scott, 33, owner of a wine shop in Largo.

Town Commissioner Mary Grizzle, 48, said she is "glad they corrected it to reflect our residents."

For the next count, Robertson plans to send the Census Bureau a map of the town with the label "Beware, we are the 56 houses."

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