Sequester impact still a puzzle

ESCANABA – Following the March 1 announcement of automatic cuts to the federal budget, known as sequestration, many are wondering what the impact will be at the local level. But truth be told, many local officials are still uncertain how exactly these cuts will affect them.

According to Delta County Administrator Nora Viau, the only information the county has received about the cuts is their impact on federal payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) money, the amount of which is supposed to be adjusted in June.

Viau said the county is not exactly sure how much of a reduction this will be in the approximate $285,000 line item in the county budget.

Additional potential impacts, however, remain big question marks.

“We’re not certain on its impact on the Essential Air Service…and I’m not sure how it works in other federal areas where we have federal money coming through because we haven’t received any notice yet,” said Viau.

Delta County Airport Manager Connie Ness said from the publications she has read, no one seems to know what affect the cuts may have on airports.

“The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has not laid out a lot,” said Ness. “They talked about the closing of some of the towers and beyond that, it’s been hard to get any information.”

However, the “Thunder Over Delta County” Air Show scheduled to take place at the Delta County Airport in July had to be cancelled due to the implemented budget cuts. All four military organizations announced all air shows and support to public events will be cancelled for the 2013 season. The Department of Defense has directed the Air Force and all services to cancel aviation support to public events for the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. This includes the cancellation of support to all air shows, tradeshows, and flyovers – including funerals and military graduations.

“Thunder Over Delta County” has been rescheduled for July 26 and 27, 2014.

“We are disappointed that we need to cancel the air show, but at the same time, believe that we now have more time to make 2014’s air show bigger and better than originally planned,” said Kelly Smith, Delta County Airport air show committee member.

Bill Dubord, executive director for the Menominee-Delta-Schoolcraft Community Action Agency spoke about the impact of potential funding cuts to the CAA.

“We’re in the process of planning for an approximately 5 percent cut in federal funding,” he said, noting cuts are anticipated to mostly affect the CAA’s Head Start Program. Of the CAA’s roughly $3.2 million Head Start allocation, this could equate to an approximate $150,000 reduction.

Another cut could affect the CAA’s $345,000 allocation for congregate and home-delivered meals.

“If the 5 percent happens, that is approximately $17,000 that we’ll have to reduce out of our nutrition program,” he said.

Dubord said the CAA has not received any specific guidance from its regional office regarding cuts, but the next step is submitting a plan on how these funding cuts would take place.

“We’re going to have to come up quickly with some scenarios but we also need to hear officially what the number is going to be and what the rules are,” said Dubord, as he has heard some federal programs might have specific rules on how the funds may be reduced.

“We are going to do our best to not impact services to children, families, and seniors,” he noted, adding the CAA hopes to have more information within a week.

Leslie Massignan, business manager for the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD, spoke of the ISD-wide impact. According to Massignan, school business officials received notice from the Michigan Department of Education that the MDE has not received any definitive information on reductions of federal funding at the state and district levels.

However, various sources have projected the impact on education to be between 4.8 to 5.4 percent in federal reductions. Based on these projections, the ISD’s direct federal funds impact would be between $110,000 to $125,000.

“The state also relies heavily on federal funding to build the school state aid budget,” said Massignan. “The ‘domino’ effect could eventually yield additional similar monetary cuts.”

Sequestration has also pushed back an expansion project planned for Escanaba’s Bishop Noa Home, according to administrator Elsie Stafford.

The main impact on Bishop Noa? On April 1, there will be an immediate 2 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements.

“For many people, especially skilled facilities, 2 percent may not sound like a lot but it’s a major change in reimbursement,” she said.

This has contributed to Bishop Noa’s decision to hold off on the project momentarily.

“We’re hoping at possibly a six-month hold back at the most,” said Stafford, adding they hope to revisit the expansion by the end of the year.

The estimated $1.3 million expansion would create 12 private rooms functioning as a rehabilitative unit.