Cape County gets new population label

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

The federal government has designated Cape Girardeau and Jackson as part of a new Micropolitan Statistical Area, a label based on census data that some hope will funnel more federal dollars into the area.

It's just a statistical tool currently, says the federal Office of Management and Budget, which developed the new designation.

But Charles Fluharty, director of the Rural Policy Research Institute in Columbia, Mo., and an expert on the issue, says the designation ultimately will be used by Congress and federal agencies in handing out tax dollars nationwide.

How it's used depends on Congress and could take several years to iron out, he said. Lawmakers plan to hold hearings in Washington this fall regarding the use of census data in funding matters, he said.

Fluharty, who plans to testify, worries that rural areas could lose funding depending how the federal government ends up defining metropolitan vs. nonmetropolitan areas. Fluharty said the federal government spent $5,742 per urban resident in 1999 compared to $5,481 per rural resident.

"The differential is huge," he said. Nationwide, it amounts to $15 billion more in funding for urban areas, said Fluharty, who wants rural areas to get their fair share of federal tax dollars.

The Cape Girardeau-Jackson statistical area includes all of Cape Girardeau County and the bordering counties of Bollinger in Missouri and Alexander in Illinois.

The federal Office of Management and Budget two weeks ago designated 20 areas in Missouri as Micropolitan Statistical Areas. Besides the local area, the statistical areas include St. Francois and Butler counties in Southeast Missouri, which have urban cores in Farmington and Poplar Bluff, respectively.

Nationwide, there are 560 micropolitan areas. Another five are in Puerto Rico.

An 'urban core'

To qualify, an area must have an "urban core" with a population of at least 10,000 people but less than 50,000, the OMB said. Cape Girardeau and Jackson have a combined population of over 47,296, according to the 2000 census.

The county in which that urban core is located qualifies for micropolitan status along with any neighboring counties where at least 25 percent of the workforce commutes to jobs in the core area, the OMB said.

Southeast Missouri regional planners, local officials, civic leaders and state demographer Ryan Burson said they don't know what the designation will mean in terms of federal funding.

Cape Girardeau and Jackson city officials said they weren't even aware of the area's new status until contacted by a reporter on Monday.

John Mehner, Cape Girar-deau Chamber of Commerce president, said the designation means little if it doesn't come with federal dollars.

"Otherwise, it is just a term," said Mehner who, along with other civic leaders, had hoped for a different census designation.

The cities of Cape Girar-deau, Jackson and Scott City barely missed qualifying as a federal "urbanized area" last year because that area didn't have sufficient population density. Such a designation would have allowed the cities to form a metropolitan planning organization made up of local elected leaders, residents and transportation officials who would have had a say in how federal highway dollars were spent in the area.

So far, that's not the case with the new statistical designation.

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