The countdown has begun for the Year 2000 census in the Virgin Islands.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently opened its V.I. operations office at Nisky Center. Phone service started last week. Most of the top staff is in place and their training begins this week. And, as in the past, Dr. Frank Mills of the University of the Virgin Islands is leading the effort.
The 1990 census put the territorys population at 101,809. A less comprehensive interim survey indicted that the number had grown to almost 110,000 by 1995, before Hurricane Marilyn hit in September of that year.
Mills noted that many residents were chased away by hurricanes, but he said the population seems to have fluctuated in recent years. His guess is that the 2000 census will show a population of between 110,000 and 120,000.
Field work – the actual surveying – will begin April 1 throughout the United States. Mills said the count should be complete here by late August or September. Then will come the compilation, which in the past has taken months.
The territory has a $6.4 million budget for its census – all of it federal funds. The local government does not put up any sort of match, except that UVI is contributing some staff.
"We get to spend all that money in the local economy," Mills said.
He anticipates hiring about 500 people for the field work, 225 on St. Croix and 225 for the St. Thomas-St. John district.
Because home addresses are so little used in the Virgin Islands, and many houses do not fit into neatly laid-out neighborhoods as on the mainland, the V.I. has made great use of field workers in the past, having them interview residents and take down their answers to the census survey.
But, said Mills, "house-to-house is very expensive, very time-consuming." So this time out, the territory will rely more heavily on the method used across the country – mailing surveys to residents.
The V.I. effort will be a combination of the two methods, as Mills explained it. Residents will be asked to answer as much of the survey as they can, and then hold onto it until a census worker comes by to pick it up. That way, if the resident has any questions, or if he has not completed the survey, the worker can assist with it.
Working with Mills is an adviser from the U.S. Census Bureau, Al Giglitto, who has been in the territory since November. Giglitto has 32 years with the bureau and worked on the census in Puerto Rico in 1990.
Other staff include Myrtle Peters, assistant manager for field operations, a veteran of the 1980 and 1990 censuses; Madeline Sewer, assistant manager for office operations; Carla Frett, assistant manager for administration; Annette Gumbs, administrative assistant to Mills; Leroy Wheatley, a former WAPA employee and veteran of the 1980 and 1990 census efforts who will be the geographic specialist; Michael Williams, assistant manager for the St. Croix operations; and Sandy Ross, media partnership specialist.
Expect to hear a lot more about the census this year. Mills said the bureau has national spots that will be broadcast here and placed in the print media. The V.I. office is hiring a local advertising agency to produce television commercials too.