Looming federal cuts put Frederick County in holding pattern -- Gazette.Net


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Frederick County political and business leaders are worried about the impact on schools, clean water and children with special needs if Congress fails to take action to avoid across-the-board cuts slated to go into effect tomorrow.

With a potential deal to avert the sweeping spending cuts going down to the wire, Frederick County could lose $3 million of the expected $85 billion in sequestration cuts to domestic and defense spending to programs nationally.

“It sure is frustrating,” said Frederick County Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R). “We wanted to do an assessment to determine what is real and what is just a scare tactic. We needed to know what the degree of cuts would be.”

There are no employee layoffs planned in county government, Young said.

Of the potential $3 million cut in federal grants to Frederick County, $1.7 million would be to county government programs, and $1.25 million would be lost to Frederick County Public Schools.

Cuts to the county programs include $11,899 to the special education infants and toddlers program, $2,597 to child support enforcement, $1,931 to child abuse prevention program, $6,492 to the crime victims program and $922,244 in grants to ensure clean water.

Cuts to public schools range from $24,032 in career and technology education grants, to a $22,225 reduction in English language programs.

Even before sequestration cuts have gone into effect, the threat of them has had an impact at Fort Detrick, the largest employer in the county, officials said.

“We have a freeze on hiring, a hold on travel, and departments have been told that they are not allowed to purchase new equipment and furniture,” said Lanessa Hill, Fort Detrick’s public affairs officer. “We have had that conversation with departments.”

As far as other cuts, such as furloughs, it is too early to speculate, since the impact of the sequestration cuts won’t be felt entirely until April, when furlough notices are expected to go out, Hill said.

Fort Detrick employs 4,349 workers, according to the Frederick County Office of Economic Development.

Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary’s College, in St. Mary’s City, said Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., will be especially hard hit by these cuts, because of the large amount of civilian Defense Department personnel that live in the area.

Some parts of the country will see little impact to their pocketbooks, unless they work directly for the Defense Department, Eberly said.

Overall, the $85 billion in cuts is not enough to damage the economy, Eberly said.

“First thing, you’re looking at $85 billion in cuts in a $16 trillion economy, and the odds of that impacting our economy is minimal,” he said. “But there are regions that will be specifically harmed and Maryland and Virginia are going to feel this more acutely.”

The sequestration comes two months after Congress and the White House made a last minute deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” the automatic tax hikes that were scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. The sequestration also was set to go into effect on Jan. 1, but Congress extended the cuts until Friday.

The $85 billion in cuts is to help offset debt-ceiling increases of as much as $2.1 trillion.

On Sunday, the White House released a detailed list of the spending cuts for every state and Washington, D.C., painting an ominous picture of cuts affecting a wide range of government services and programs.

In Maryland, that means a host of impacts, including:

• Loss of approximately $14.4 million in funding for primary and secondary education.

• The end of Head Start and Early Head Start services for approximately 800 children.

• Furloughing 46,000 civilian Department of Defense employees, $877,000 in nutrition assistance for seniors.

• Loss of $317,00 in law enforcement grants.

• Loss of $66,000 in job training assistance.

• About 2,050 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough.

Maryland has 130,000 federal workers whose salaries could be cut 20 percent due to furloughs or eliminated.

If the cuts happen, the Federal Aviation Administration will also close air-traffic control towers at five Maryland regional airports on April 1, including the Frederick Municipal Airport.

Kevin Daugherty, manager of the Frederick airport, said closing down the new air traffic control tower that opened on May 1, could pose a safety problem for pilots since they would be forced to handle flight data in and out of the airport themselves.

“It is an extra set of eyes in the sky,” he said. “We would have to go back to self-reporting and that can be a problem.”

The shutdown would be caused by a $600 million cut to the FAA that would result in mandatory furloughs for nearly 47,000 air transportation employees and the closure of more than 100 air-traffic control towers across the country, said U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) of Baltimore, in a statement issued Friday.

The control tower at the Frederick airport is manned by six air-traffic controllers and one tower manager, Daugherty said.

Each year, 130,000 airplanes fly in and out of the Frederick airport, making it the second busiest airport in the state, behind the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore, Daugherty said. Of that, 226 airplanes are based at the airport.

Congressional lawmakers are feeling the heat from constituents.

Frederick Alderman Karen Young (D), in her capacity as chairwoman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, has sent separate letters to U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington and Sen. Ben Cardin (D) of Baltimore outlining the impact of the sequestration.

“The automatic across-the-board cuts, as opposed to thoughtful deficit reduction, will have a debilitating effect on an already fragile economy,” she wrote.

For example, the public transit Metro system would lose up to $12 million in fiscal 2013 from direct federal cuts, Young said in the letter. Compounding it would be a loss in revenue from lower ridership due to federally mandated furloughs.

“Simply stated, people who lose their jobs will not need transit to go to work,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, Blaine Young is hopeful a deal can be reached before the full impact is felt on April 1.

“I remember when [President] Ronald Reagan would invite [House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill (D)] over to the White House and over bourbon and Irish whiskey and a story from the president, they would work something out for the good of the country,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of leadership anymore.”

sgreenfield@gazette.net