By Joe Earle
and John Schaffner

Atlanta residents lag behind other Georgians in the rate they are responding to the U.S. Census, but Buckhead residents seems to be participating at higher rates.

The overall census participation rate for Georgians was 59 percent as of April 7, the census reported. The national rate was 62 percent.

Atlanta’s participation rate was 53 percent, according to a census Web site. Buckhead neighborhoods had participation rates ranging from 62 to 70 percent, the Census Bureau said.

The “participation rate” is computed as a percentage of the census forms mailed out to an area that have been filled out and returned, the census Web site said. The Census Bureau developed the figure this year to reflect participation in the census during a time when many areas have vacant housing because of the poor economy. The participating rate does not include forms returned to the Census Bureau as “undeliverable” by the U.S. Post Office, the Web site said.

Community leaders have been trying to help the census get out its message that participation in the national count is important. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has performed census pep talks at community meetings and on radio.

On April 6, David Bennett, one of Reed’s assistants, told Neighborhood Planning Unit A that Reed wanted everyone to know “it is critical for everyone to respond to the census because there are billions of dollars in federal aid at stake.”

“The mayor has personally put a major effort into the rally to get people to respond to the census,” Bennett said. “He decided he would raise the money personally so that we could do a series of efforts to get the word out. We have had a couple of dozen meetings around the city. The mayor has spoken to more than 1,700 people. He has gone to businesses, churches and synagogues. The efforts have included written materials, shirts to get the word out. There are going to be billboards, radio and TV ads. It has been a pretty exhaustive effort.”

Other mayors also have taken up the cry, citing the role of census data in setting shares of local sales tax revenues and in determining the division of federal grant money.

“It is vital to the fiscal health of our city that everyone in Sandy Springs promptly responds to the 2010 Census,” Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said in a prepared statement issued by the city on April 5. “You only have a few short weeks to complete and return your census form, so please take 10 minutes and fill it out. The population count determines how much sales tax comes to Sandy Springs. If you do not answer the census, we could lose sales tax dollars. That would mean having to increase other taxes.”

Residents have until April 21 to mail in their census forms, said 2010 Census spokesman Derick Moore.

On May 1, census “enumerators” will begin going to addresses from which census forms have not been returned. The enumerators will interview residents at the addresses and fill out forms, so the residents can be counted. The enumerators are scheduled to collect information from residents through the middle of June, census partnership coordinator Edward Davis said.

Residents who mail in forms after April 21 may be visited by enumerators also.

The final report on the 2010 U.S. population is due in December, a census spokesman said.

Census officials are encouraging residents to return the forms by mail in order to save money. It costs the census 44 cents when a form is returned in the mail, but $57 to send an enumerator to a home to fill out the form, Davis said.

For more information on the rates at which various communities are participating in the census, check out the 2010 Census Web site at .