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Congressman hears sequestration concerns from Whidbey leaders
The community needs to work together and take concrete steps to prepare for impending cuts in federal spending, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson told a group of elected officials, business leaders and citizens Saturday.
Johnson invited U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen to attend the special discussion at Angelo’s Caffe in downtown Oak Harbor. No plans were hatched, but those who attended got a good picture of what’s going to happen.
Larsen said Congress is looking at ways to lessen the impact of the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester, but he didn’t make any promises.
“Sequestration is a fancy Latin work that means ‘what the hell are we doing to ourselves?’” he said jokingly.
Larsen quizzed various officials about what they are facing.
Capt. Mike Nortier, the new commanding officer for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, said he isn’t just concerned about the sequester, but also the continuing budget resolution.
Nortier said civilian employees at the base will be furloughed for one day a week beginning April 25. He said about 1,200 civilians are employed at the base, but “mission essential” employees, including firefighters and air-traffic controllers, won’t be affected.
“That certainly impacts the morale and quality life of the entire base,” he said.
Nortier said it’s still unclear how the budget cuts will impact the rest of the base. He said forward deployed forces will be sheltered from cuts.
“It’s the forces at home that will feel the impacts,” he said.
Rick Schulte, superintendent of Oak Harbor schools, laid out the various federal funding sources which will be cut. He said $300,000 will be immediately be cut from Impact Aid, which helps school district that have revenue loss due to tax-exempt federal property.
Larsen pointed out that the district buys supplies and materials locally, so the cuts will have “a ripple effect.”
Schulte said he can’t cut staff in the middle of the school year, so the paring will have to be done in supplies and maintenance.
Next school year, the district will lose about $200,000 in special education funding. He said the community recently passed a levy which was supposed to increase special education funding, but now that won’t happen.
“It’s not going to be a add anymore,” he said. “It’s going to be a break-even.”
Teri Anania, executive director for the Island County Housing Authority, said cuts could seriously impact the number of families her agency is able to help.
Larsen reported earlier that agency would lose $342,000, eliminating support for 20 families, money to help them stay in their homes.
Anania said she currently has the ability to issue 225 housing-assistance vouchers to families in the county, but 368 families are on the waiting list.
“More and more people are coming through the doors,” she said. “Many are people who’ve never needed help before.”
Larsen said Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Violence could be devastated by a potential $90,000 in cuts.
At the end, Johnson said the solution for the community is in the private sector. She and her husband, for example, are making a donations to Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in response to the cuts.
“We need to take personal ownership and take care of the services we value,” she said.
Johnson suggested that banks could cut rates and property managers could decrease rent.
Former mayor Jim Slowik, now an executive at Peoples Bank, said community banks have the flexility to take steps to help those struggling because of sequestration.
“Credit unions, especially, are already on the game,” he said.