Worried how the sequester may impact federal funding for local roads and schools, county representatives headed to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to make their case to lawmakers.
County representatives will also discuss funding for improvements at the Del Norte County Airport and potential impacts to the Essential Air Service program, which provides subsidies to airlines that serve rural communities such as Del Norte.
“It’s a full two days of trying to advocate for funding for the county,” County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina said. “(The issues) we’ll go over will be Secure Rural Schools funding and roads funding. We’re obviously trying to make an impression as to why that needs to be continued and sustained.”
Sarina and supervisors Michael Sullivan and David Finigan have roughly 15 meetings scheduled with lawmakers, including California congressmen Jared Huffman (who represents Del Norte) and Tom McClintock, Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon and staffers for Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The Del Norters also plan to meet with congressional representatives from Utah and other rural states.
“All have the same issues,” Sarina said. “We’re going to hit every one of them and try to see where we can partner and what direction they’re going in so we can be on the same path as them, too.”
Finigan is visiting Washington, D.C., as president of the California State Association of Counties as well as a representative of Del Norte, Sullivan said. The trio is expected to return Saturday.
Del Norte County receives roughly $2.5 million a year in Secure Rural Schools funding, with $1 million going toward road maintenance, Sullivan said. The funding was created as a way of offsetting the financial impact to rural counties from government limits placed on timber harvesting.
That money has helped pay for improvements to many roads, including a triple chip seal on Patrick Creek Road and a paving project on French Hill Road in the eastern part of the county, Sullivan said.
“These are major arteries that are maintained with Secure Rural Schools money,” Sullivan said. “And there’s a priority list that the Local Transportation Commission, the city and the county have developed to make sure the roads stay in good working condition.”
Because of the sequester — $85 billion in federal spending cuts that took effect March 1 —the federal government is asking the county to pay about 10 percent, or $37,000, back from its October Secure Rural Schools allotment, Sarina said. Many of the roads maintained using those funds are county roads that serve U.S. Forest Service land, he said.
The Del Norte County Unified School District uses Secured Rural Schools funding to pay for building improvements, reduce the deficit and help with cash flow, said Deputy District Superintendent Rodney Jahn.
Even though the sequester may have a negative impact on the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget, which provides grants and pays for projects, local airport officials don’t yet know what that will mean for Del Norte’s airport, said Director Jim Bernard. About 80 percent of the FAA’s budget comes from taxes on airlines and aviation fuel, he said, which pays for airport improvements and the Essential Air Service program.
The sequester shouldn’t impact the Essential Air Service program, but the program is a political football right now, Bernard said. Some have accused communities of abusing that program by flying empty airplanes, he said. That is not the case with Del Norte County, he said.
“We are considered (a) poster child for the Essential Air Service,” he said, adding nearly every plane that flies out of Crescent City is at 70 percent capacity. “There are other communities who don’t use it as well as we do and those I suspect will go first.”
County Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said he had heard of airport control towers being shut down due to the sequester, but that doesn’t affect Del Norte County because the airport doesn’t have a tower.