According to the Census Bureau, one census block’s population in Ithaca increased from 110 people to 5,882 people between 1990 and 2000. Another block decreased in population from 1,459 residents to 61 residents during that same time span.
The amount of fluctuation in population numbers concerned the County Information Technology Department and the City and County Planning Departments enough that they decided to investigate. The reason: apparently the Bureau accurately calculated the population of students at Cornell University, but instead of proportionally distributing the numbers, they placed all the students in one census block. As a result, the drawing of district lines for the next decade’s worth of municipal elections might be delayed.
“The Census decided to put the students in one block on Kelvin Place. A nice, residential area now has an approximately 6,000 extra people,” said Alderwoman Patricia Cartwright Vaughan ’61 (D-3rd Ward).
According to the Census Bureau, college students were counted in the area wherever they lived in April 2000, regardless of not being in their home state.
“They [students] live here nine months out of the year. The Census was very clear about it,” Vaughan said.
Discrepancies with the residence halls on North and West Campuses are the central concern for the officials. City and county committees are working together to repair the problem.
“The problem is that the Cornell numbers are in the northeast corner of the city,” said Tompkins County Rep. Michael Lane (D-Dryden), the chair of the charter review committee. The borders of the Town and City of Ithaca, along with the village of Cayuga Heights mix in that corner of the city.
The Bureau misplaced students out of their prospective census blocks, or moved them out of the right districts.
“As far as the census is concerned, when they do the county population, it’s divided into census tracks, and then into block groups, and then into blocks,” Tom Mank, planning analyst for the County Planning Department explained. “The dormitories were counted; they were just put in the same block.”
The West Campus results were inaccurate, for example, counting 1,958 residents in the 1990 census, but only 165 in 2000.
The difficulties with the census slow down the redrawing of district lines that officials are trying to accomplish by June. Due to a population decrease, Ithaca may lose a seat on the Tompkins County Board of Representatives.
Candidates for next fall’s elections have to complete nominating petitions in June, thus officials are trying to set preliminary borders so that the candidates have a general understanding of their possible districts.
“I think that we’ve gone over the hurdle. It has set us back two weeks, but we’re moving along,” Vaughan said.
The Census Bureau has also made the same mistakes in other states.
“We contacted the Bureau in Boston and it’s a nation-wide problem in group residencies. If we fix it and petition [for the changes to be accepted by the Bureau, [the changes] will most likely be accepted,” Lane said.
The petition will most likely be sent to the Census Bureau in June or July.
The county and city planning boards are working to make the numbers accurate for each census block using the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a mapping system, which enables the officials to analyze the data more carefully.
“We downloaded the raw data [from the Census Bureau] and we’re comparing the data using the system,” Mank said. “We’re trying to fix it.”
Some officials believe that the GIS helps to fix the population numbers without an excess of time or speed.
“[The GIS] is making it easier to stay with the time table we set for ourselves,” Lane said.
“We couldn’t have done this before since we didn’t have the computers to do it. Now with microcomputers and software, we can do more than we could ten years ago,” Vaughan said.
The same problem with population numbers affected Ithaca College, but not to the same degree as it did Cornell.
“[The Bureau] made the same mistake with Ithaca College, but only in one district. It doesn’t really affect it at all,” Vaughan said.
So far, the preliminary results are that approximately 405 residents will be moved from the City into towns on the redistricting map. About 355 of these residents will be placed in the Village of Cayuga Heights and about 50 will be shifted into the Town of Ithaca. The remaining numbers will be accurately proportioned to the other districts.
“It probably worked out logically,” Lane commented.
Officials are looking at other factors that may affect the apportionment differences.
“To reiterate, it’s in the process. It’s looking like the dorms, but there may be other things involved, maybe frats and sororities as well,” Mank said.
Archived article by Kelly Samuels