|Local officials in wait-and-see mode on possible federal funding cuts|
|Tuesday, February 26, 2013|
By SAM HATCHER
Local officials are scrambling to understand exactly what impact federal sequestration will have here in respect to the operation of city and county governments.
If Congress does not reach an agreement by Friday on the sequestration issues, a series of automatic cuts in federal spending will begin without further notice and many of these cuts it is believed will jeopardize a number of jobs locally.
Almost all sectors of government, from the federal all the way down to the local level, are indicating that they are embracing for the proposed cuts.
A White House press release earlier this week shows the impact in Tennessee will be realized in public education, health care, the environment, military readiness and other areas.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto believes that federal dollars for education are where we will be hit the hardest.
Wilson County Director of Schools Mike Davis said that he is not sure that anyone has a “true answer” as to how the county school system will be affected, but that they are preparing for a worst case scenario if Congress does not act.
“It will not impact the remainder of this school year, but will impact funding as of July 1 for the next fiscal year. The state department is saying that special education and CTE (career technical education) should experience a 5.1 percent cut for that following year,” Davis explained, adding that he is remaining hopeful that a compromise will be reached.
“They suggest that you have a backup plan in the worst case scenario. Hopefully they will resolve this or come to a compromise with a 2.5 percent cut. We have not received anything official, just making plans on the best estimates we have,” he continued. “I am hopeful that we will not have a drastic impact if it happens. Right now nothing official has come down.”
Lebanon Special School District Director Scott Benson could not be reached for comment prior to The Wilson Post’s deadline.
Hutto said that he “really and truly” does not think sequestration will have an impact on the county’s roads.
“They are on gasoline tax, not federal dollars. We really don’t get any federal money,” he said. “If these cuts cause us to go back into a recession, our sales tax dollars could be affected, too. People will not be spending as much. We are trying to stay in tune with that is going on.”
County Finance Director Aaron Maynard added that he is not aware of any effect it will have on the county at the present time during remarks at the Wilson County Commission meeting Monday night.
Other state agencies are saying that they expect to endure the loss of major funding in a number of areas.
For instance, last week the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said it could lose nearly $3 million in federal funding meant for firefighters and first responders across the state.
Wilson Emergency Management Agency Director John Jewell said locally these loses will mostly affect grants.
“We are pretty far down the chain, so my guess is that it would affect us in the area of grants – not grants that have already been given to us but in future grant funding – the grants that we could apply for,” Jewell said, noting that in recent years grant funding has been considerably down anyway.
According to a report from the state’s health care industry, the top five areas in health care that will likely suffer the most job losses in 2013, because of sequestration, are hospitals (physicians’ offices, dentists and other health practitioners); nursing and residential care facilities; medical and diagnostic labs, and outpatient and other ambulatory care services; and home healthcare services.
“To put these reductions in perspective, the total economic impact in the first year will be equivalent to losing a factory of more than 250 jobs in every one of Tennessee’s 95 counties,” Tennessee Hospital Association President Craig Becker said months ago.
According to the White House, Tennessee can expect the following to be affected if Congress cannot avoid sequestration:
The cuts, it has been reported, would not be made at once. Rather, they would be phased in over several months.