Like many other cities, Decatur is concerned about the impact sequestration could have on programs financed in part by federal grants.
Unless an alternative plan can be reached between Congress and President Barack Obama, the sequestration, set to take effect Friday, would trigger an $85 billion cut from a $3.6 trillion budget during seven months stretching through September. The measure is designed to cut about $1 trillion off the federal budget during 10 years, divided between military and domestic discretionary spending.
Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and veterans programs are exempt. Medicare cuts are limited to 2 percent, representing a $10 billion reduction in payments to hospitals and doctors.
Decatur Mayor Don Kyle and other city officials worry the cuts will trickle down to the local level.
“We need to try to be prepared the best we can because we’re working on an austere budget as it is,” Kyle said.
Council President Gary Hammon said he worries about sequestration’s potential impact on road projects awarded through the state’s Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, or ATRIP. Decatur has been awarded $1.7 million to rehab the Gordon Drive overpass and pave Church, 19th and Moulton streets, Point Mallard Drive, Old Moulton Road and 12th Avenue Southwest. The projects require a $556,560 match.
ATRIP is financing the statewide bridge and road improvement program by taking out bonds to be paid back from future federal highway funding. A third round of ATRIP funding will commence this summer with proposed project submissions due by May 31 and award notification July 10.
“I’m not very optimistic about it,” Hammon said about the third round. “I think what we’ve already got may be it.”
ATRIP’s funding will be protected from the automatic cuts, but there’s still a small degree of uncertainty over future federal highway funding, said Don Arkle, assistant chief engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“We never know what future federal highway dollars are going to be, so we just have to hope, estimate and anticipate it’s going to be the same amount from the previous year,” Arkle said.
One funding source that will be subject to sequestration is the Community Development Block Grant, which provides local governments money for services to help low-income residents. Alabama, which received more than $39 million in 2012, estimates it will be cut by $3.2 million, dropping it to $36 million to be split among cities for 2013, said Allen Stover, Decatur senior grants administrator.
Assuming Decatur will receive the block grant funds this year as it did in 2012, its $414,000 allotment could be slashed to roughly $381,000, he said.
“Rather than eliminating a service, all the services would probably be reduced by around 9 percent,” Stover said.
The Mental Health Association, Decatur Enrichment Center, Decatur Youth Services and the Volunteer Center of Morgan County are among the agencies that receive Decatur block grant funds. Free air conditioners and fans to elderly in the summer months, activities for at-risk youths and free counseling to individuals in need are some of the services they offer.
“If Congress drags this on, I won’t have a budget for 2013, which means we won’t be able to do anything in the summer months to help people,” Stover said. “Of the two options, I’d rather at least have a budget, even with the cuts, rather than not any funds at all.”
Tiffeny Owens can be reached at 256-340-2440.
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