Mayor Jill Thompson spoke with the Waterville Town Council about the American Communities Income Survey Nov. 15 during their meeting. The survey provides income data to the Census Department and is used in determining state funding as well as being used in grant applications.

In 2020, the survey reported the average household income in Waterville as about $42,000. This year the reported household income is $59,000 on average; however, the reported margin of error is $22,000.

“It’s not a number that makes sense in any way shape or form,” said Mayor Thompson.

Jill Thompson

Waterville Mayor Jill Thompson.

The margin of error is due to an extremely low number of respondents to the survey. Mayor Thompson said the surveys tend to err on the high side as higher income families tend to respond and lower income families tend to shy away from proactively sharing their income. Unfortunately, the higher income averages are used in determining whether a community is considered needy.

“I tell you $59,000 is not a needy community. It really cuts us out of a lot of funding,” said the mayor.

In consultations about this problem, it was suggested to the mayor that the town hire an outside company to conduct another income survey in a manner that is more thorough.

The mayor had conversations with Evergreen Water about conducting a new survey at the beginning of the new year. The survey would begin with bilingual written requests sent to the randomly selected members of our community sent directly to their mailing addresses. The company would then call those who do not respond to attempt to solicit a response. If that does not work, the company’s staff will send people door to door for a handful of days to attempt to get a confidential response. After that Waterville can use volunteers to attempt to personally solicit answers from any remaining households that had not yet responded. The hope is that by having such a thorough follow-up methodology, our town will get a much more accurate picture of average household income.

“The more we get the better. The more accurate it will be,” said the mayor.

She explained the information provided is confidential, but the company and our town will have to make a concerted effort to get a true picture of our town’s average income.

“We’ll have to make a really strong effort to make sure that we’re inclusive of all people, not just the higher income people in our community,” said Mayor Thompson.

Once the survey is complete, the data provided by Evergreen Water can be used in place of the public income survey reported to the Census Bureau on applications for state funding and grants.

“The agencies are well aware that the data is flawed. When you have a 50% error rate, there’s no validity to that information. They’re aware of it, they just don’t have anything better. So, if we give them something better then they will use that information,” said the mayor.

At the end of the mayor’s discussion with our Town Council, the council voted unanimously to approve funding for the private company to complete a new and more accurate household income survey for our town’s residents. The survey will commence in early 2022.

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