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COUNTY COUNTING ON RESIDENTS TO FILL OUT CENSUS

Hillsborough officials begin a campaign to stress the importance of the nationwide tally.

With the help of balloons, banners, a color guard and even a drummer, elected officials and local representatives Monday tried to drum up support for the upcoming census count, which starts in April.

"This is going to be everybody's job if this is going to be successful," Hillsborough Commissioner Rose Ferlita said at the census kickoff, held at the University Area Community Center.

The census, a count of everyone in the United States once a decade, couldn't sound more mundane until you consider how much depends on it.

Want to know how $300 billion in federal money is spent? Why a certain road gets widened? Or how it's determined how many U.S. representatives Florida gets?

The census is often the answer, which is why Hillsborough officials have formed committees and started airing public service announcements in Spanish and English urging everyone to fill out the census questionnaire that will begin arriving in mailboxes in March.

"We have one shot out of 10 years to get our fair share," said Bernadine White King, a U.S. census specialist.

The census is anonymous and important for citizens and immigrants to fill out, King said.

She said it takes less than 10 minutes to finish its 10 questions.

"This is a time period where everyone is treated the same, everyone is equal and everyone needs to be counted," said Cyndy Miller, Tampa's director of growth management and development services.

The county launched a Web site to answer questions about the census that includes a link to copies of the federal questionnaire. It can be found at hillsboroughcounty.org/census/.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3368.

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