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The Daily Tar Heel

N.C. Town Fighting for State Funding

Town officials are now claiming they are being further damaged by a faulty tax return system's failure to account for the effects of Floyd.

Princeville's leaders claim that by using the 2000 census instead of the 1999 population estimate, the Office of State Budget, Planning and Management is shortchanging the town in tax returns.

The state government receives numerous sales tax proceeds and then turns them over to the local governments based on population.

Bobby Hopkins, Princeville's interim town manager, said he feels that despite the Census Bureau's efforts, it failed to obtain an accurate picture of the town's population.

"I feel that the Census Bureau did everything they could with the information available," he said. "But we don't feel that the count was accurate."

According to Hopkins, Princeville had 2,157 residents in 1999, and Edgecombe County currently lists the town as the residence of 1,465 registered voters. But the 2000 census shows Princeville with a population of 940.

Such a drop in population will dramatically lower the tax returns the state gives Princeville in the coming year. "We estimated that we may be losing around $172,000 in this year's budget," Hopkins said.

With the option of an appeal of the census not even available until July, Princeville's officials have sought aid from a variety of sources, including the N.C. Office of Budget, Planning and Management, the source of statistics for other state agencies dealing with tax returns.

But State Demographer William Tillman says that Princeville is asking the office to overstep its bounds. "We don't have the legal authority or the staff to second guess the Census Bureau," he said.

Tillman also argued that granting Princeville a higher population figure was not simply a matter of the state government relinquishing funds.

"The state doesn't make any money off these tax returns," Tillman said. "The drop in Princeville's population doesn't mean that the state gets more, it means the rest of the county gets more."

Jerry Stahl, the regional census media specialist, said a special process was devised for calculating the population of areas heavily affected by Floyd.

"For those living in FEMA trailers, if you were planning to come back, you were to be enumerated in Princeville," he said. "If you weren't coming back or were unsure, you were enumerated at your current location."

FEMA trailers are housing units provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for those whose homes are put in danger by disasters.

But Hopkins said most FEMA villages were not even set up until 2000.

Vance Holloman, N.C.'s director of fiscal management of local government commission, says he believes Princeville has a valid argument.

"We feel that they have a legitimate reason for appeal," Holloman said. He cited the number of water-paying customers and FEMA trailer residents that did not mesh with the census's figure for Princeville.

But while Princeville officials have said that it might be costly to wait until the beginning of the Count Question Resolution Program to process their appeal, Holloman said he thought the town had enough reserves to do so.

"They probably have enough reserves to carry them through for a while," he said.

Holloman estimated that the town had $1.5 million accumulated in its reserves.

But Hopkins said the issue was bigger than one town and that other towns might be in similar circumstances. "This is not just a Princeville issue. This is an eastern North Carolina issue."

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