Friday, March 15, 2013
Spending cuts start to hit home in Southwest Virginia
The budget cuts grounded the Lynchburg Regional Air Show, which was canceled Friday.
There’s still much up in the air about the automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts Washington insiders call sequestration — and that’s starting to worry people across Southwest Virginia.
“Altogether, that’s probably what we’re getting the most calls about,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem. “I think it’s the randomness of cuts, the lack of knowing, that there’s no plan, that seems to bother people.”
Yet the budget cuts grounded one high-profile event Friday. Organizers announced the May 25-26 Lynchburg Regional Air Show would be canceled, citing uncertainty about the availability of military aircraft for the show, including the Navy’s famous Blue Angels aerial demonstration squadron. The first air show, in 2011, drew more than 32,000 people.
Griffith said he’s heard from about 100 constituents about cuts to the Head Start program, with most others expressing general unease about the across-the-board cuts.
“There are a lots of things I’d cut before I’d cut Head Start,” he said.
Five relatives of preschool kids in the Total Alliance for Progress Head Start program stopped by to make their case for the program at the Roanoke office of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County, on Friday.
“She knows how to get on a laptop and find anything she wants,” Melvia Neely said of her 4-year-old granddaughter. “She looks at me sometimes and says ‘Nana, I know about that!’ ”
TAP is at risk of losing $449,000 of funding for a Head Start program that serves nearly 900 children.
New River Community Action will have to cut $133,000 and eliminate two Head Start classes, with up to 40 students, next fall if the sequester cuts remain in effect, Executive Director Terry Smusz said. In that event, teachers, aides and bus drivers would lose their jobs.
A Community Services Block Grant will be reduced by $10,000, meaning emergency services programs will be cut across five New River Valley jurisdictions — Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski and Floyd counties and Radford, where about 12,000 people are helped annually.
Some of New River Community Action’s federal grants are administered through the state, so Smusz was unsure how those grants would be affected.
The situation is still murky for public schools, too. “There are a lot of variables that are unknown right now. Early indications — and this is truly an early number — suggest that the impact [on Roanoke City Public Schools] in 2013-14 could be well over $1 million,” said Curt Baker, deputy superintendent for operations.
Penny Hodge, Roanoke County’s assistant school superintendent for finance, said the school system’s new budget factors in expected cuts of 5.3 percent in federal funding for special education and for career and technical education.
She raided bits and pieces from several other programs to make up the shortfall in special education — the programs that serve children with disabilities. The school system will delay equipment purchases for career and technical education to avoid having to cut the number of students in the program.
Cuts to Title I funding, the federal money that pays for extra teachers and programs for schools with large numbers of low income children, mean several county schools that had benefited from the extra help won’t get it next year, she said.
In the realm of higher education, sequestration could cut as much as $1.1 million from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service and the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station,Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said.
He said the impact on other research could be large, too, About 80 percent of the university’s sponsored research is funded by the federal government.
Companies that work closely with the military might not be seeing any immediate effects from sequestration, because the military has not made its specific cuts yet, but some of those companies were already looking beyond military contracts as a decade of wars winds down.
ITT Exelis, the Roanoke County maker of night vision goggles for the military, laid off 201 employees last fall, but so far the sequester has not rippled across its business.
“Most defense businesses deal in a backlog,” said spokesman Tim White. “Our business trails a little bit when compared to something like the park service, which might feel an immediate effect on its service to the public.”
Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, told reporters at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant last month that sequestration could cost the jobs of 28,000 civilians, contractors and trainers in Virginia.
The Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County will cut four summertime positions, but will not lay off any of its nine full-time employees, park Superintendent Carla Whitfield said. The park’s annual Juneteenth celebration, which commemorates the day in 1865 when Texas slaves learned of their emancipation, will reduce expenses by 50 percent and will not include the usual lineup of national gospel music acts.
Booker T. Washington National Monument marks the 19th-century birthplace of the famed black educator. The park’s $978,000 annual budget is already among the lowest of the park service’s nearly 400 units.
“Eighty-seven percent of our budget goes toward fixed costs, like salaries and utilities and just keeping the lights on,” Whitfield said. “We are fortunate enough to be allowed to decide where the cuts will come from. We will try not to impact visitors’ services. Our primary mission is to protect the resource.”
On Thursday, the Blue Ridge Parkway announced that its 5 percent, across-the-board cuts will amount to a $740,000 reduction, which means Roanoke Mountain Campground, the Rocky Knob Visitor Center and the Smart View picnic area will not reopen this season.
Public broadcasters will receive less money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting between now and September. Public radio station WVTF-FM will see its funding cut by as much as $50,000, station manager Glenn Gleixner said, with some of those cuts already in the works before the sequester.
Blue Ridge PBS will be cut by about $40,000, station Vice President Will Anderson said. The sequester cuts come less than a year after Virginia public broadcasters lost all state funding.
“It hits at a time when we need the funds more than ever,” Anderson said. “We’ve tightened our belt about as tight as we can tighten it.”