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Small Pasco towns lose ground in census

Something has to be wrong with the official count, say officials in Saint Leo and San Antonio.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001

Something has to be wrong with the official count, say officials in Saint Leo and San Antonio.

SAINT LEO -- Pasco County's smallest incorporated communities took a wallop Tuesday when the state's U.S. Census results were announced.

Saint Leo, already a small town, got a lot smaller, the government reported.

But the mayor says something must be wrong.

According to the government count, the town went from 1,009 residents in the 1990 count to 595 in the 2000 tally. That's a drop of 41 percent.

"That's got to be wrong," Mayor Janis Klingle said Tuesday night. "They did a terrible job."

Neighboring San Antonio saw its official federal count drop from 1990's census report of 776 residents to 655 in last year's. That's down about 16 percent.

"To say that we went down is silly," San Antonio Mayor Roy Pierce said. "We haven't had anybody leave a vacant house in at least six years, and I know we've added at least 50 houses, and some of those people have large families."

The results, if allowed to stand, could cost both municipalities state revenue-sharing dollars. Pierce said that loss would be magnified because small towns have limited revenue sources and depend on state funds for a large portion of their budgets.

Saint Leo counts largely on the resident student population at Saint Leo University for its official population count. This year, 444 students live on campus, inside town limits. But school spokeswoman Jacqui Cash said the school wouldn't know until complete data are available how many of them actually declared Saint Leo their official home for census purposes.

"We do strongly suspect that they did not list it as a home address," she said. "Many of them consider this a temporary home. Even if they do live on campus, many of them are only here nine months out of the year."

San Antonio City Clerk Barbara Sessa said there also were problems last year during the count with people reporting they had not received a census form. She said the city complained to the Brooksville regional Census hub and was assured that everyone would be counted.

"They said they had a master list, they would be going to every house," Sessa said.

One problem cropped up for the communities last spring when the Census would not deliver census forms to post office boxes. Most residents of the towns get their mail at post office boxes because home delivery was not available in the area until the late 1980s.

San Antonio postmaster Phil Pulao said last year that in and around San Antonio, about 80 percent of the residents use post office boxes as their mailing addresses.

Census regional director Ivan Gartenlaub last year told the Times that pollsters would go door-to-door in the area.

Ironically, that's exactly what leaders in both communities say they may now have to do to prove they aren't shrinking.

In a county that reported a 23 percent overall growth, officials say their municipalities are getting larger, now smaller.

"I guess we're better off in a sense than a larger city," Pierce said. "We can go door-to-door and physically count everyone. You can't do that in Tampa."

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