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County on guard for sequestration impacts

Mar 15, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Details are still emerging about $84.5 billion in cuts to the federal budget resulting from the sequester, which went into effect March 1. Some local county, city and public lands officials are confident the broad cuts will spare them, but others are still guessing.

County government

Sequestration will have a small effect on Fremont County's finances, county Treasurer Scott Harnsberger said.

He said the payment in lieu of taxes program (PILT) will be 5 percent less next year. PILT is money the federal government pays for Bureau of Land Management land in the county and is based on fees collected on that land, Harnsberger said.

Fremont County receives about $2.2 million from PILT annually, but the treasurer expects the payment to be about $100,000 less due to sequestration. He said the county's budget is about $24 million, and $100,000 out of that "is just not that much."

Harnsberger noted the effect will come on the June 2014 payment.

"That's the only one I know of that's going to affect us directly," Harnsberger said.

He added that the amount the county receives next year could actually be higher if the BLM collects more money in fees. He said it's also possible that Congress could act to change the PILT formula.

Public health

The sequester might impact some of Fremont County Public Health's programs according to Wyoming Department of Health public information officer Kim Deti. But Deti said Medicaid, the agency that provides the majority of federal funds to Wyoming public health programs, is exempt from sequestration.

"Some other areas may be affected, but we don't have the details of the affects at this point," Deti said.

She added public health employees will work to minimize the effect any cuts have on clients.

Riverton Regional Airport

The county's only commercial airport will see little impact from the sequester.

"The only thing that might affect is funding for projects, but I doubt it will," Riverton Regional Airport airport division manager Paul Griffin said.

He said the Riverton airport is seeking funds to rehabilitate its general aviation runway and a taxiway.

Griffin said he had heard the Transportation Security Administration might install a policy prohibiting overtime, which could impact Riverton flights.

He said if the TSA takes on such a policy, fewer workers might be available to handle flights that land late due to weather or other issues. Passengers on those flights could see some delays, he said.

Federal lands

The BLM Lander Field Office will likely feel effects from the federal sequester, but details remain unclear.

"It's being worked on at levels way above the Lander field office," said field manager Rick Vander Voet. "We're obviously concerned and wondering exactly how it'll affect us, but we don't have any specifics right now."

He has not yet received any instructions regarding the sequester, but Vander Voet said employees are most concerned about furloughs.

Speaking to the Fremont County Commission March 5, Shoshone National Forest Washakie district ranger Steve Schacht said sequestration will not have a major affect on the local national forest's budget for the rest of the year.

Lander

The federal financial situation is not expected to have much impact on Lander.

"I don't think it's likely it will affect us," city treasurer Charri Lara said.

She noted that most federal dollars come to the city go through the state government, and she has not received revenue forecasts yet from the state.

Changes are possible, she said, but the effect would be small.

A recent Wyoming Department of Audit report showed Lander received slight less than $200,000 from the federal government last year, and the city had about $10.8 million in total revenue.

Lander community resource coordinator Gary Michaud said he did not think the sequester would affect Lander's Hunt Field airport. He noted the airport is looking to start work on a Federal Aviation Administration-grant funded project, which could possibly see impacts from sequestration.

"I haven't heard that it would," Michaud added.

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