Agencies weigh effects of sequestration budget cuts
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Mar 14, 2013 | 2308 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Visitors to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park may see fewer park staff as budget cuts imposed through sequestration begin to take effect. Photo courtesy of National Park Service
Visitors to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park may see fewer park staff as budget cuts imposed through sequestration begin to take effect. Photo courtesy of National Park Service
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Government agencies are struggling to learn how across-the-board budget cuts from the congressional sequester will affect them.

In Grand County, some vacant National Park Service positions are going unfilled, said Kate Cannon, superintendent of the National Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group, which includes Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monuments.

Grand County Drug Court would lose $100,000 after June 30 and the federal payments in lieu of taxes the county receives from the U.S. Department of the Interior would decline by $60,000 as of October, said Grand County Council chairman Gene Ciarus.

Sequester, which went into effect March 1, requires significant federal budget cuts split evenly between domestic and defense programs. Funding for Medicaid and Social Security will not be reduced.

Officials with many local agencies say it is too early to know how the budget reductions will be handled and which programs might have to be eliminated or reduced.

Cannon said the parks and monuments in southeast Utah received a 5 percent budget cut as soon as sequester took effect March 1.

“We are not filling a couple of key vacant positions, including our chief ranger and several others,” she said. “We are cutting back on contracts and expenditures of all kinds.”

Cannon added, “This is not over. It is a permanent cut and it could get bigger. The congressional resolution needs to be worked out and that could bring about more change.”

Cannon said visitors to southeast Utah’s national parks and monuments can expect the parks to be open, but there will be less staffing.

“We are trying to maintain our staff at a field level that interacts with visitors and protects the parks,” Cannon said.

Grand County Council members will discuss the impact of the 2013 sequestration cuts during their April 5 retreat. Ciarus said County Council Administrator Ruth Dillon will be meeting with county department heads to learn which programs receive federal funding so council members can prioritize them.

No decisions will be made during the council’s retreat. If cuts were to be made, they would be discussed in public at a regular council meeting, Ciarus said.

“Right now, the county is not looking at cutting any programs,” he emphasized. “We want to find out for sure which ones we rely upon and how much money is involved.”

However, he said the county has been notified of the loss of PILT money in October and loss of drug court funding after June 30 if sequester is not resolved by those dates.

Lisa Bryant, assistant field manager for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Moab office, said the BLM is required to reduce spending by 5 percent during the seven months remaining in this fiscal year. That amounts to a reduction of $75 million nationwide, she said.

“Budget cuts will result in fewer parcels being offered for lease, a reduction in the number of Applications for Permit to Drill processed, as well as the number of Inspection and Enforcement actions completed – all of which will result in revenue losses,” Bryant said in a news release.

In the BLM’s Canyon Country District, which includes Grand and San Juan counties, three key leadership positions are vacant, Bryant said. Those are the district manager position, and field manager positions in Moab and Monticello. Moab also has vacancies in its oil and gas, lands, and range programs.

“Under the hiring freeze associated with sequestration, these positions will not be filled or will be delayed, affecting our ability to accomplish critical work,” Bryant said.

Seasonal recreation staffing will be reduced, which will affect campgrounds and visitor facilities, she added. The cuts might also cause an inability to staff the Moab Information Center in downtown Moab, Bryant said.

“Reduction in funding will curtail range monitoring, assessment and inventory work, which will negatively impact BLM-Utah’s ability to complete grazing permit renewals,” she said.

The U.S. Forest Service will absorb a 5.2 percent cut by reducing firefighting personnel and equipment, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a news release. The agency also may close up to 670 campgrounds, trailheads and picnic sites across the nation, although specific locations have not yet been determined, according to the news release.

“The reduction of funds could result in 500 fewer firefighters and 50 to 70 fewer available engines, and will impact aviation assets,” the news release stated. “Severe fire conditions are expected for the season ahead, but the Forest Service will continue to work with state, local and interagency partners to provide firefighting resources to high risk locations despite a reduction of funds.”

According to the news release, “The closing of recreation sites would likely result in loss of the opportunity for 1.6 million visitors to national forests, thereby harming the economies of remote rural communities that depend on recreation dollars to stimulate their local economy.”

Dave Cunningham, director of the Southeastern Utah District Health Department in Price, said federal funding for the Women, Infants and Children program is likely to be reduced, although the exact amount is uncertain.

“They are looking at a probable 5 percent cut,” he said. “It could be more or less than 5 percent.”

Cunningham said he would be surprise if any programs “are held harmless.”

Likewise, officials with the state Department of Workforce Services are unsure what cuts will be made to their budget.

“We have been talking with the federal government, but nothing has been determined,” said DWS spokeswoman Rachel Lancaster. “Things are in an early stage and we are still doing an analysis about how sequester will affect us.”

Staff members at Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center have not been notified if any federal funding will be lost, Executive Director JayLynn Hawks said.

“It’s all a guessing game,” she said.

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