April 15, 2001 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Not satisfied with the disparity between the City of La Grande population estimates provided by Portland State University and the official enumeration by the U.S. Census Bureau, the city is looking for more residents to be counted.

City officials feel some city residents who receive mail at a post office box may not have received a 2000 Census survey to fill out and thus werent counted.

The main reason for trying to achieve higher numbers close to the 13,015 figure presented by the PSU Center for Population Research is to be able to get more funds from the state which are based on population figures. This includes distribution involving cigarette, liquor and gasoline taxes.

Before the city can challenge the official U.S. Census count which was 12,327 it must gather information from the people who say they were not counted.

So, the city is issuing an urgent plea for any resident inside the city limits who did not have an opportunity to be counted by the Census to immediately contact the Community Development Department by calling 962-1207.

Were not accusing anyone but are just trying to find the most accurate count, City Manager Wes Hare said. Weve heard rumors that some people with post office boxes didnt get counted. And theres a big disparity between the Census and the PSU numbers.

City Finance Director Eldon Slippy busy working on the city budget, which will be the topic of the budget committee meetings next month said he doesnt have an accurate estimate of what the loss of income to the city will be using the lower numbers. PSU estimated that La Grande had 12,885 residents in 1999 and 13,015 on July 1 last year.

Slippy said a guess of the annual dollar loss would be about $20,000.

Thats not a substantial amount in our overall budget, but its something we are concerned about.

The city recently lost those people who had been in the northside annexation area when the state Land Use Board of Appeals voided the annexation.

The exact number living in that area hasnt been determined, but it did include about 100 accounts receiving city sewer or water services, Slippy said. One estimate during the annexation process was that there were 335 people in the northside area outside the city limits.

The city, which double bills for water accounts to out-of-city residents receiving the service, has recently billed those northside residents for a total of $23,000 to $24,000 for water received at regular rates during the two-year period in which the residents were considered city dwellers.

The city had to refund about $100,000 to the residents of the northside area for the property taxes the city collected during the same period.

Meanwhile, the city is proceeding with the possibility of annexing other areas around the city but inside the urban growth boundary.