PATERSON, NJ - Census numbers released on February 3 indicate Paterson's population has fallen short of reaching the 150,000 mark, the level needed for a "first-class city'' designation that officials say would have put the Silk City in position to get millions of dollars in federal money.
In addition, officials said, "first-class" status would have given city officials more flexibility in the oversight of the police department as well as the authority to regulate liquor store hours.
After the 2000 census put Paterson's population at 149,222, some municipal officials believed it was inevitable that it would reach the first-class city threshold this time around. But instead, the numbers showed Paterson's population declined by about 2 percent, down to 146,199.
"That's very disappointing, it's disheartening,'' said Council President Aslon Goow Sr. "I don't believe it. We had really hoped this was going to happen.''
"Anyone who comes and looks at this city can see that we easily have more than 150,000 people,'' said Councilman William McKoy.
But city officials suggested that the census failed to account for many recent immigrants who settled in Paterson, some who come from cultures with a tradition of distrust of government and others who may be wary of detection because of legal reasons or their immigration status.
"Some people are afraid to participate in the process,'' said Councilman Andre Sayegh. "They don't understand that census information is confidential. It's against the law to divulge it.''
The census numbers showed the number of Hispanics in the city grew, while the population of blacks and whites declined. Hispanics now account for almost 58 percent of Paterson's population, compared to 50 percent in the 2000 census. The city's percentage of blacks dropped from 31 to 28, while the percentage of whiles declined from 13 to 9. Asians made up most of the remaining five percent of the population.
Paterson remains New Jersey's third most populous city, after Newark and Jersey City. The Jersey Journal reported that Jersey City planned to appeal its census numbers to try to have its population increased, but Paterson city council members said they didn't see much chance of success in that.
"It's not like we can do our own count and say, 'Here, look at these results,'' said McKoy.
Mayor Jeffrey Jones did not respond to a phone message seeking his comments on the city's census numbers. Goow and Sayegh said Paterson will lose out on millions of dollars in federal funds that are available to first-class cities.
"It's not right,'' Goow said. "This city has at least 190,000 people. Our basements are filled. Our attics are filled. They're all using our services. Our police. Our fire. Our schools. Our sewers. Our water. And we're not getting anything from it.''
McKoy was particularly concerned about the census' numbers' impact on the Paterson police department. As a first-class city, he said, Paterson could have appointed a police director to oversee the day-to-day operations of the department. As a second-class city, Paterson's structure gives the police chief full command of the daily operation, even though the city has a public safety director.
The impact on the police hierarchy is particularly crucial for Paterson with the impending retirement of Police Chief James Wittig. Council members had hoped that first-class status would allow them to do a national search for a new police director. As a second-class city, laws require the city to promote one of the three deputy chiefs to the job once Wittig leaves.
McKoy said city officials still will attempt to revise the power structure in the police department, but said it would be "more challenging" without first-class status.
Officials said they also had hoped that first-class status would have allowed them to reduce the hours of operation for city liquors, which stay open until 3 am and often are the focal points of late-night problems in Paterson.
Council members said the city had conducted an outreach informational effort while the census was being taken to convey the importance of the head-count and to try to convince people to participate. Next time, they said, the city will put emphasis on that.
"Now we have 10 years to get it right,'' Goow said.