East Valley municipalities appealing population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau that they allege are flawed are not likely to get the financial windfall they seek next budget year, even if the survey numbers are proven wrong.
Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler and Gilbert called on the bureau to recheck its work, claiming that the agency’s 2005 survey shorted them thousands of residents and homes.
Population numbers determine how much communities receive in state income and sales tax revenue, which can reach tens of millions of dollars.
A Tribune analysis found that East Valley communities stand to lose $61 million during the next five years in which the estimates are to be used.
If the bureau finds errors and revises its estimates, the revenue change would likely come after the municipalities’ final budgets have been approved, making it difficult to use the additional cash, said Craig Clifford, Scottsdale’s chief financial officer.
The bureau began its field work this week to verify the information collected last year, said Kelly Taft, a spokeswoman with the Maricopa Association of Governments. The field work will be finished June 1 and results from the data analysis are expected at the end of that month.
The municipal budgets, for the budget year that begins July 1, place a legal cap on government spending.
Taft said it is unrealistic to expect the bureau to have its findings sooner.
“They’ve got to give the census bureau time to, you know, conduct a thorough review,” she said.
The East Valley governments had expected the bureau’s estimates to closely mirror those produced by the state Department of Economic Security. Instead, they largely came in lower.
Bryan Raines, Mesa’s finance director, said he has based spending plans on the lower estimate. Any state dollars that arrive beyond what Mesa budgeted for would go into reserves.
“It’ll be used next year when we have more solid numbers,” Raines said.
If Scottsdale were to need to spend that cash, Clifford said there is a way to access it through a contingency fund.
“That would be extremely unlikely,” he said. “We’re just going to have to live within the budget.”