9. Municipal Population Estimates

Table of Contents

9.1 Municipal Population Estimates Overview

9.2 Definitions

9.3 What are the Key Obligations of Municipalities?

9.4 What are the Procedures and Deadlines for Meeting Obligations?

9.5 When Are Special Federal Censuses and Other Census Corrections Used?

9.6 When Are Special Local Censuses Used?

9.7 What Are the Requirements for Newly Incorporated Municipalities?

9.8 What is the Appeals Process?

9.1 Municipal Population Estimates Overview

G.S. 143C-2-2 requires OSBM to "coordinate the efforts of governmental agencies to collect, disseminate, and analyze economic, demographic and social statistics pertinent to State budgeting." This includes a requirement that OSBM "prepare and release the official demographic and economic estimates and projections for the State."

OSBM's municipal population estimates are required for determining the distribution of state-shared funds to municipalities. These include:

OSBM’s municipal population estimates are also required by a number of other General Statutes, including:

Every year OSBM prepares two types of population estimates for every municipality in North Carolina:

  • Certified municipal population estimates, which are required by the General Statutes for revenue distribution.
  • Standard municipal population estimates, which are used for planning.

The municipalities play a key role in building these estimates by providing OSBM with updated information and data on:

  • annexation, detachment, and other boundary changes,
  • group quarters, and
  • residential construction and mobile homes.

In addition to data submitted by the municipalities, the municipal population estimates prepared by OSBM are based, in part, on that year’s state and county population estimates. The foundations for the county estimates are the decennial census and any official corrections made to the decennial census. The municipal population estimates are likewise developed from the previous decennial census and any official corrections made to it. Unless labeled as revised estimates, previous year municipal population estimates should not be compared to current year estimates.


9.2 Definitions

  • Annexation refers to a land area that has been fully incorporated into an existing municipality. Attempted annexations that are under appeal or are pending are not included.
  • Annual Survey refers to the annual request for information OSBM sends to all municipalities. The annual survey includes three components: Boundary and Annexation, Group Quarter Population, and New Residential Construction and Mobile Homes. The survey detail OSBM annexation records and group quarter data for that municipality and requesting updates on/corrections to annexation names and dates, land areas, actual occupied housing unit and population counts; group quarters and their opening and closing dates; and changes in the number of housing units.
  • Boundary Change means any change in a municipality’s boundaries not including annexations and detachments.
  • Deadline includes any date given in this section by which an action is required. When the given date does not fall on a business day the deadline extends through the next business day.
  • Decennial Census refers to the census of population and housing, taken by the U.S. Census Bureau in years ending in 0. Article I of the U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years for the purpose of reapportioning the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Detachment means a land area that was previously part of an incorporated municipality but that has since been removed.
  • Group Quarter means a longer term living arrangement other than a household. It includes institutions, where individuals are under care or custody, and noninstitutional living arrangements, such as college dorms and fraternities were 20 or more unrelated individuals are living together.
  • Municipal Population Estimates refer to the annual population estimates produced by OSBM for each municipality. Two estimates are prepared:
    • Standard Municipal Population Estimates: These estimates are for July 1st of the previous year with municipal boundaries as of the same date. These estimates are used for general planning purposes and are the most common type of municipal population estimates that are produced.
    • Certified Municipal Population Estimates: These estimates are for July 1st of the previous year with municipal boundaries as of July 1st of the current year as required by G.S. 136-41.1(a). These estimates are used by the State to determine the equitable distribution of state-shared revenues.
  • Municipality is a municipal corporation under North Carolina law (G.S. 160A-11, G.S. 160A-12). These entities are created by the General Assembly and have a Charter of Incorporation.
  • Provisional Estimates are prepared by OSBM before the final estimates are certified. These estimates are sent to each municipality to provide them an opportunity to identify and notify OSBM of any errors based on the annexation survey data they provided.
  • Special Census means a complete count of every household and its occupants, and of every institution where people live and its occupants, in a municipality, other than the regular decennial census taken by the U.S Census Bureau.


9.3 What are the Key Obligations of Municipalities?

Municipalities are required to meet three key obligations:

  1. To notify OSBM of changes in points of contacts (POCs), including name, address, phone number and email changes prior to June 1 of each year,
  2. To respond to the Annual North Carolina Demographic information Survey (https://ncds.osbm.nc.gov) by the stated deadlines, and
  3. To review the Provisional Estimates (at https://ncds.osbm.nc.gov) by the 4th business day before September 15th.


9.4 What are the Procedures and Deadlines for Meeting Obligations?

  • OSBM maintains a list of Points of Contacts for the annual demographic information survey and provisional estimates review. Municipalities and counties may contact state.demographer@osbm.nc.gov to verify their POC or to submit corrections in name, address, phone and e-mail listings.
  • At the end of June, OSBM will e-mail POCs a request to respond and instructions on accessing and responding to the annual survey. Responses must be received by the end of the 3rd week in July. The survey can be accessed at: https://ncds.osbm.nc.gov.
  • If a municipality chooses to conduct a special local census (see Section 9.6, Special Local Censuses, below) in addition to completing the annual survey, the municipality must send OSBM all final census data by August 1st.
  • If a municipality chooses to have a special federal census (see Section 9.5, Special Federal Censuses and other Census Corrections, below) conducted in addition to completing the annual survey, OSBM must receive the final census results from the Census Bureau by September 1st.
  • An e-mail informing municipalities of their provisional estimates will be sent to each municipality on or before August 27th. Municipalities will have until the close of business on 4th business day before September 15th to contact OSBM about any errors.
  • Final estimates will be prepared by and certified on September 15th to enable the Department of Transportation to meet the requirements of G.S. 136-41.1(a). Any municipality whose final estimate is different from their provisional estimate will be sent a follow up letter on or before September 30th.
  • Certified, standard and revised population estimates for municipalities will be posted online on or before September 30th at https://demography.osbm.nc.gov.

9.5 When Are Special Federal Censuses and Other Census Corrections Used?

Any municipality may elect to contract with the Office of Special Censuses of the United States Bureau of the Census to do a special federal census of the municipality. Any data from a special federal census will be used for municipal estimates by OSBM in addition to the requested survey data. The final, official, public data from such a census must be received by OSBM from the Census Bureau by September 1st in order to be incorporated in that year's estimates. All such data received from the Census Bureau will be used by OSBM, regardless of any request to the contrary by the municipality.

OSBM will also use any final, official, public data changes and corrections to the decennial census received from the Census Bureau. This data must be received from the Census Bureau by September 1st in order to be incorporated in that year’s estimates. Data changes from the Census will only be incorporated into current and future municipal population estimates and will not be applied retroactively to previous year municipal population estimates.


9.6 When Are Special Local Censuses Used?

Any municipality with a population under 500 (or for a portion of a larger municipality with less than 500 people in one county) may provide OSBM with a Special Local Census to be incorporated in the OSBM population estimate. This census would be carried out by the municipality, but must follow OSBM requirements. If the requirements are followed, OSBM will use the census data in addition to the requested annual survey data. Special Local Censuses must be received by August 1st of any calendar year for inclusion in that year’s estimates. Any special local census received after that date will be used in the following calendar year. The following requirements apply to Special Local Censuses acceptable by OSBM:

  1. The total population must be under 500 people.
  2. The municipality must provide a certified list of the permanent residents of their municipality as of a given date. This includes a complete list of all first and last names and addresses. The list should include telephone numbers, if available.
  3. P.O. Boxes are not acceptable addresses. A physical street address or a 911/EMS address point must be provided for all residents.
  4. A map of the town must be provided showing all addresses. If a housing unit does not have a physical address, its location may be indicated on the map and labeled for identification.
  5. OSBM will only accept a count of residents whose full name and location are clearly identified. Telephone numbers are used for random verification by OSBM.


9.7 What Are the Requirements for Newly Incorporated Municipalities?

When the State Legislature incorporates a new municipality, OSBM is required by General Statute to prepare a population estimate for the new municipality:

  • "§ 160A-486 Estimates of Population
    When a newly incorporated municipality is not included in the most recent federal census of population but otherwise qualifies for distribution of State-collected funds allocated wholly or partially on the basis of current population estimates, the municipality shall be entitled to participate in the distribution of these funds by reporting all information designated by the Office of State Budget and Management. An estimate of this city's population will be made by the Office of State Budget and Management in accordance with procedures designated by that office. The estimate will be certified to State departments and agencies charged with the responsibility of distributing funds to local governments along with the current population estimates for all other municipalities."

It is the responsibility of new municipalities to contact OSBM to request that a population estimate be made. The municipality is responsible for supplying certain data to this office, and may enlist the help of the government of the county in which it lies and/or the help of the regional planning organization to which that county belongs to produce this data. Either or both of these organizations may act as the agent of the municipality to supply data to OSBM. The municipality or its agent must supply OSBM with accurate maps showing the municipality's boundaries. The municipality or its agent should submit an electronic file of the new municipality’s boundaries for use in a geographical information system (GIS), or a list of all the census blocks and split blocks within its jurisdiction. If the municipality or its agent chooses to provide a list of census blocks and split blocks, the data for split blocks must include some measure of the split, for example, the percentage of the land area of the block that is within the municipality.


9.8 What is the Appeals Process?

OSBM considers appeals for errors caused by erroneous annexation data after the certified numbers are released. OSBM will consider appeals under the following conditions:

  1. A completed, annual survey was submitted to OSBM by the municipality by the July 21st deadline, either electronically (by 11:59 p.m. of July 21st) or by mail (postmarked on or before July 21st);
  2. The municipality notified OSBM prior to the deadline to expect a substantive annexation;
  3. The municipality failed to submit this annexation with the survey or OSBM failed to include it in the certified estimate;
  4. For municipalities with an estimated population of 100,000 or less (not including the population of the annexation in question), the population error in the annexation data would have to affect at least 100 people and at least 5 percent of the estimated population (not including the population of the annexation in question) of the municipality. For larger municipalities, the population error would have to affect at least 5,000 people.
  5. A written appeal explaining the error is received by OSBM by November 15th of the calendar year in which the estimate is made. This appeal should also include all the necessary information that was erroneously excluded from the survey. No new data collected after July 21st will be considered in any appeal.


  6. If appeals are received from more than one municipality, OSBM will not issue a recertification of the population estimates until the appeals of all municipalities have been duly considered. If appeals of any of the municipalities are granted, OSBM will make only one recertification of that year's estimates, which will include the results of all granted appeals.


Municipal Population Estimates Index


Annual Survey

Appeals Process

Boundary Change

Certified Municipal Population Estimates


Decennial Census


Distribution of Funds

Group Quarters

Municipal Population Estimates


Newly Incorporated Municipalities

Provisional Estimates

Special Census

Special Federal Censuses

Special Local Censuses

Standard Municipal Population Estimates