Nelsonville may remain a city after the municipality’s challenge to the 2020 census counted enough residents to qualify, City Auditor Taylor Sappington announced at an Oct. 11 council meeting.
According to Sappington, the city’s census recount, conducted by a team of volunteers between Oct. 2 and Oct. 10, tallied 5,373 residents – well over the qualifying threshold of 5,000.
“I’m so proud to see everyone come together and stand up for themselves and for the community,” Sappington told the Messenger. “This is one of the greatest examples I’ve seen in my time here, where people said nobody else can fix this, but we can, and we’re going to. I’m just blown away.”
The 2020 census counted only 4,612 people living in Nelsonville, prompting Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to announce on Sept. 21 that the city would transition to become a village. Such a transition would impact Nelsonville’s grant eligibility and potentially threaten other aspects of the city’s funding and governance.
The Census Bureau estimates Athens County’s response rate to the 2020 census at 62.5 percent, and city officials expressed confidence from the beginning that Nelsonville’s population stood above 5,000.
At the city’s first meeting to plan for the recount, on Sept. 28, Sappington said the success of the challenge would depend only on whether the community was able to mobilize quickly enough to gather data with the 10-day timeframe imposed by state statute.
Now, he says they’ve done it – and what happens next is up to the secretary of state.
“We have put it together to the best of our ability, and we’re just counting on them to see our effort, how much work it took and the community engagement – and then to look through the names and see that we deserve city status,” Sappington said.
City Council member Justin Booth, one of five volunteer enumerators appointed by the city to lead the recount, told the Messenger he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the state response, and that, regardless of what happens at the state level, he’s impressed with Nelsonville.
“I’m really proud of the residents of Nelsonville,” said Booth. “The way the city came together for this recount effort was just amazing, and hopefully it points toward brighter days.”
Booth and other enumerators went door-to-door between Oct. 2 and Oct. 10, with morning and evening volunteer shifts each day that anyone could attend. Booth said city employees volunteered regularly. Fellow enumerator, Mallory Swaim, said most shifts in which she participated drew five to 10 non-appointed volunteers.
According to Sappington, this team knocked on almost every door in Nelsonville, and the city was able to gather data on any households that were not reached directly through other means.
“We essentially covered every bit of territory in the whole city, which was always going to be best case scenario, and it could not have gone smoother,” Sappington said.
Swaim, who participated in the recount with the support of her employer, Mathews Insurance, said she was thankful to see so much participation and happy with the community’s reception.
“We had a huge response from the community. I didn’t get any negative comments, and I didn’t come across anyone who didn’t want to be a city,” Swaim said.
Swaim told the Messenger she encountered a number of people who said they didn’t get around to completing the original census and that “no one ever came to their door.”
“I wish we’d gotten it the first time around and didn’t have to do this, but I’m glad we had the chance to challenge [the census] and retain our city status,” Swaim said.
Sappington said he was looking forward to delivering the results of the recount to the secretary of state on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
“I think people should know that Nelsonville is a great place to live, and that it is a city,” he said.