WASHINGTON COUNTY – Sequestration has been in effect since March 1 in the government’s effort to cut $85.4 billion in spending this year with similar cuts annually over the next decade. Half of the cuts are applied to the military, while the other half is applied to a myriad of federally-funding programs and services. Some entities in Washington County are already feeling the pinch, while others have yet to experience any negative effects.
“We haven’t felt a whole lot of pain thus far,” Washington County Commissioner James Eardley said. Still, the county commission is concerned about what future impact there may be on federal funding as sequestration continues.
“The areas we’re concerned about are PILT and SRS (funding),” Eardley said – PILT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, and SRS, or the Secure Rural Schools programs.
PILT money is given to counties with various amounts of public lands. As counties are unable to collect tax revenue from the public lands with their borders the government supplies “payment in lieu of taxes” as a substitute.
Eardley said PILT funds are used for road maintenance and projects within the county, as well as patrols carried out by the county sheriff’s office in unincorporated areas. Some of the money is also split with the Washington County School District.
SRS funds go to the county school district. These are federal monies given to rural counties and schools adversely affected by federal regulations that brought the timber industry to a halt. The funds are supplied as a replacement for revenue once gained from local timber production.
Eardley added that the amount of federal funding the county receives varies from year to year. He said a high of $600,000 was supplied to the county in 2009, but has steadily gone down by an estimated 10-12 percent in total since that time.
Washington County School District – Title I schools
Aside from money supplied in whole or in part by PILT and SRS funds, certain programs within the Washington County School District are facing cuts also.
One of the areas that will be impacted by sequestration is funding for Title I schools. These are schools with a high percentage of the students who come from low-income households.
“We’re (getting) a five to 15 percent cut in funding,” said Kathy Peterson, the district’s Title I director. While no immediate impact is being felt by the funding cuts, that will change this fall, Peterson said.
Funding provided to Title I schools is typically around $5 million annually, she said, a cut of at least 11 percent is expected. Money from Title I funds goes to preschool, teacher development programs, reducing class sizes, and other facets within the schools.
There are currently 11 Title I schools in the Washington County School District. All are elementary schools and include: Coral Canyon Elementary, Coral Cliffs Elementary, Dixie Sun Elementary, East Elementary, Heritage Elementary, Hurricane Elementary, LaVerkin Elementary, Red Mountain Elementary, Sandstone Elementary, Springdale Elementary and Sunset Elementary.
According to The White House, Utah faces over $6 million in cuts to public education. Special education programs stand to lose $5,600,000 in funding.
Some local nonprofits, like The Learning Center for Families in St. George, are facing cuts to their overall funding annually over the next ten years.
The Learning Center specializes in early childhood development and health and pregnancy health and education. The center operates a number of programs that are funded in whole or in part by federal dollars.
Debbie Justice, TLC’s executive director, said the center has already lost $70,000 due to a cut to its Early Head Start Program. Cuts to other programs will are expected in June and August.
“We’re scrambling to meet the holes,” Justice said.
In order to save on expenses TLC’s staff had the options of cutting client families and/or client visits to the center. Justice said they would do neither. Instead, staff members are willingly taking furloughs – days off without pay – to help keep services running while keeping the cost down.
Chris Bray, executive director for the Utah Nonprofit Association, said nonprofits are being impacted statewide. On the UNA website, nonprofit organizations affected by sequestration are encouraged to go to GiveVoice.org and share their stories of how the cuts are adversely affecting them – and ultimately that ability to help others.
“We feel the best way to demonstrate the adverse effect of sequestration on our communities is for charitable nonprofits like yours to share the stories and data of what it means to the people you serve,” the UNA website stated.
Launched by the National Council of Nonprofits, the stories posted at GiveVoice.org will be sent to national leaders in Washington, D.C., in hopes it will spur them to reconsider the expansive cuts being applied nonprofits nationwide.
“Our appeals to our leaders is: Let’s use a surgical knife (for the cuts) and not a hack saw,” Bray said, “because it feels like we’re hacking off limbs and not being strategic about it.”
Zion National Park
Aly Baltrus, public information officer for Zion National Park, said the park lost around $383,000 to sequestration. Though the park’s managers had been preparing for the cuts before they took effect on March 1, their impact has been felt.
“The cuts have seriously stretched our staff,” Baltrus said.
To cope with the funding cuts the number of rangers and on-site medical responders in the park has been reduced. Hours at the park’s history museum have also been reduced, though regular visitor center hours remain intact.
Less trail work will also be done, and it is also likely that the park’s ability to deal with landslides and flooding will also be reduced.
While the park is absorbing the funding cuts as best as possible, Baltrus said, the impacts of sequestration “are definitely here.”
Others – still too early
Inquiries were made to the Utah Department of Transportation, Southwest Utah Public Health Department, St. George Police Department, and other organizations which receive federal grants. So far, each of these entities has not yet seen any immediate impact due to the sequestration. However, this may change as the new fiscal years start and grant application periods begin.
Sequestration effects on Washington County have begun, but the overall impact remains to be seen.
“We’re holding our breath,” Eardley said.
Ed. Note: Only a few examples of the effects of sequestration have been covered in this article, these are by no means the only areas currently impacted, or yet to be impacted, by federal budget cuts. To cover them all is beyond the scope if this article. Details regarding aspects of the sequestration have also been corrected.
- The White House: Break down of how sequestration will effect Utah (PDF)
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