Some results are already clear; others are still taking shape
How will the $85 billion cutback in federal spending known as sequestration affect Del Norte?
That depends on who you ask. Agencies directly funded by the feds are already making some cuts, while state and local agencies are assessing the landscape with varying degrees of optimism and pessimism.
Here’s an early look at possible effects on local services:
• Parks: Redwood National Park acting superintendent Dave Roemer said that once certain roads are in need of repair, they will be closed as the park’s budget can no longer handle as many road maintenance projects. The road leading to Tall Trees Grove in Redwood National Park and Coastal Drive on the south side of the mouth of the Klamath River are two likely candidates.
“As the conditions deteriorate, we will not be reopening roads,” Roemer said.
The Hiouchi Visitor Center is another likely victim of sequester cuts.
“I feel pretty confident that we will not be able to operate two visitor centers in the north this summer,” Roemer said, meaning only the Crescent City visitor center would remain open. The Hiouchi facility typically opens in late May or early June.
Redwood National Park will not be able to fill 11 vacant full-time positions as a result of the sequester — equivalent to a 12-percent reduction in staff, Roemer said.
“There’s nothing about the sequester that you could really call planning. It’s not long-term planning or short-term planning — it’s just reaction. We never would’ve planned to do the things that we’re doing right now.”
• U.S. Forest Service: Requests for comment from Six Rivers National Forest officials were responded to by the United States Department of Agriculture in a statement:
“The Forest Service will do everything it can to mitigate sequestration impacts to firefighting efforts and protect communities. However, the 5.2-percent reduction caused by sequestration will reduce the agency’s initial attack capability which will increase the probability of larger, costlier fires.
“Impacts on cuts in recreation at specific forests and grasslands are still being determined,” according to the statement, which raised the specter of temporary closures of campgrounds, trailheads and picnic sites.
• Medicare: A large slice of sequester cuts, $11 billion, comes in the form of reductions in payments to Medicare providers.
Locally, hospital officials do not expect to implement significant changes or increase prices come April 1 , when a 2 percent cut arrives, because the Sutter system has already been anticipating and adapting to Medicare reductions.
“It’s really business as usual,” said Sutter Coast Hospital spokeswoman Beth Liles. “Several years ago Sutter Health started looking at ways to transform health care and make it more affordable knowing that (reductions in Medicare) and other things were coming.”
• Airport: Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported delays in customs waiting lines as a result of sequester cuts, with worse delays expected in the future as the Transportation Security Administration issues furlough notices and cuts overtime for employees.
For the time being, at least, TSA employees in Crescent City seem to be spared.
Kimberley Siro, the federal security director for Crescent City’s airport, recently told airport officials that there are no immediate staffing changes expected for TSA employees in Crescent City.
• Tribes: Cuts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs could result in direct cuts to programs administered by local Indian tribes, although many programs are exempt and for the most part it’s too early to tell.
“We’re actively trying to assess how sequestration might impact the tribe while we’re waiting for the federal government to figure out what it’s going to look like,” said Yurok Tribe spokesperson Matt Mais.
Officials from Smith River Rancheria highlighted how problems might possibly arise down the line from over-burdened federal employees, including those within the BIA, creating lags with any business affairs between local tribes and federal agencies.
“Where the problem is going to come in is when they are furloughing federal employees and how are we going to divide those services, because that’s going to happen,” said Kara Brundin-Miller, chairwoman Smith River Rancheria.
• Harbor: Crescent City Harbor officials submit payment requests from its lead contractor Dutra Construction to the California Emergency Management Agency, which is partially reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Crescent City Harbormaster/ CEO Richard Young said it’s too early to tell if there will be a lag in federal reimbursements.
• Housing Authority: The sequester will not immediately impact families currently receiving assistance from the Crescent City Housing Authority, but the program will not be accepting new clients for the remainder of the year, said Housing Director Megan Miller.
There are 275 families currently on the Housing Assistance Program’s waiting list, and if things don’t change, they won’t be helped until the middle of 2014 at the earliest, she said.
The Housing Authority could lose about 6 percent, or $160,000, from its annual federal allocation due to the sequester, Miller said. Last year the authority received about $2.8 million in federal funds.
“We’re not in a situation where we’re going to have to immediately terminate families, which is a big relief,” Miller said, adding that the Housing Authority currently assists 560 families.
The authority’s administrative budget, which pays for staff salaries, will also be cut by 32 percent, Miller said. But because it has funds in its reserves, it will not have to lay off any staff members at this point, she said.
“We’ll probably dip into our HAP reserves significantly, but at least we’ll maintain the families we’re currently supporting,” she said.
• Other social services: It’s unclear how sequestration might affect other social services in Del Norte County, but reductions are likely to be minimal, said Health and Human Services Director Gary Blatnick.
“From our understanding, it should be business as usual,” said Blatnick.
Mental health, drug treatment and child welfare services are the areas that could be slightly exposed, Blatnick said.
“Most of those funds are excluded from the sequestration as we understand at this point,” said Blatnick.
Job services, one area listed in a White House analysis as seeing reductions in California, should not be affected in Del Norte County, said Don Youtsey, fiscal director for Rural Human Services.
City police: The sequestration may have a negative impact on a COPS grant that funds a police officer position, said City Manager Eugene Palazzo. The city currently receives $100,000 a year from that grant, and although the sequestration shouldn’t impact existing funds, the future of the program is questionable, he said.
“If they start cutting across the board they (can) impact dollars we receive for the COPS allocation position,” Palazzo said.
• Schools: According to Rodney Jahn, deputy superintendent for the Del Norte County Unified School District, the district could lose about $220,000 per year in federal funding that pays for Title I and Title II programs, as well as special education programs.
Despite the loss in federal dollars, more state funding could be coming to the school district under Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed new education funding formula. But Jahn said local officials are waiting for state lawmakers to weigh in on the issue.
Staff writers Adam Spencer, Jessica Cejnar and Anthony Skeens contributed to this report.