Impacts in Whatcom County of the across-the-board federal budget cuts are mixed, but might be most painful in early-education programs for low-income families.
"We have waiting lists for all programs and are seeing unprecedented calls for service around children with special needs," David Webster, director of early learning and family services at the Opportunity Council, said in an email. "It's the worst time to be doing less."
The early-learning office is supported mostly with federal dollars and has dozens of funding sources, so the full extent of cuts from the federal budget sequester may not be known, Webster said. For now, early learning will receive $137,000 a year less, starting July 1.
"After a number of years of flat funding ... the cuts will hurt," Webster said.
To avoid cutting children out of the preschool program Head Start, and Early Head Start for prenatal children to age 3, Webster has considered cutting transportation for preschool students in rural, poor parts of the county.
At one of the schools, he had a day in March when he asked parents to "creatively cope" with getting their children to school. In a class of 17, only five kids showed up.
Staff cuts will be hard to avoid, Webster said.
"To truly save dollars of six-figures magnitude, unfortunately, staffing pops up pretty quickly," he wrote.
The list of local cuts reveals how many ways the federal government supports local governments and federal offices in the area. Cuts range from $116 from geothermal energy leases on federal lands, to the closure of the Hozomeen visitor station in North Cascades National Park.
The county must absorb a cut of perhaps $70,000 from the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program. That's money the federal government provides counties because they cannot collect taxes on federal land.
This year's PILT payment to Whatcom County is due in June, and the amount has not been set. Last year, the county received $1.45 million, which, if cut 5.1 percent, would have cost the county $74,000.
County Executive Jack Louws said he was made aware of the pending cut last month, during a trip to Washington, D.C.
"No decision has been made at this time," Louws said Friday, April 12, in an email. "As the official detailed notifications come in, we will determine an appropriate course of action and present our recommendation to council."
On March 1, President Barack Obama signed a sequestration order removing $85 billion from what's left of the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Across-the-board cuts of 5.1 percent or more have resulted.
Struck from the federal budget was a subsidy established in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that supported interest payments on certain local government bonds sold after the Obama stimulus bill was passed.
Bellingham School District is losing $15,000 for its interest payment next year on a $14 million construction bond sold in 2010, used mainly to pay for Cordata Elementary School.
"It's not a substantial amount," said Ron Cowan, the district's assistant superintendent for finance and operations. "We have sufficient reserves in our debt service fund."
North Cascades National Park will not hire some summer employees because it will not open the visitor station at Hozomeen, on Ross Lake at the border with Canada.
"The effect of closing Hozomeen has a ripple effect across the park," said Paul Slinde, chief of facility management.
Staff must be moved to monitor the campground and boat launch on the lake. The park will offer fewer educational programs and do less maintenance this season, he said.
In addition to closing the ranger station, which has about 20,000 visitors a season, the park will leave four permanent positions vacant, Slinde said.
Local U.S. Forest Service officials declined to comment on the sequester, directing calls to U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Stephanie Chan in Washington, D.C. Chan did not return requests for comment.
A letter from Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to a Senate committee on Feb. 5 said Forest Service cuts would include fire prevention and suppression, and closures of trailheads and campgrounds.
There are no plans currently to close facilities in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, according to a spokeswoman for Hoodoo, the company that manages campground reservations.
The Forest Service disburses money to states and counties through the Secure Rural Schools program, which supports not only schools but also roads, fire prevention, emergency services on federal lands, and stream conservation. The program already paid out this fiscal year, and states are being asked to pay back the Forest Service.
The impact on Whatcom County is unknown. Gov. Jay Inslee has until Friday, April 19, to tell the Forest Service how he intends to pay back almost $1.16 million given to the state, according to a March 19 letter he received from the Forest Service.
On the international border, no changes seem imminent. Furloughs and cuts to overtime initially planned for border staff were postponed by a federal appropriations bill passed in late March. A spokesman for Customs and Border Patrol would not discuss possible changes to service in Whatcom County at the border with Canada.
Bellingham International Airport is not on a list of 149 airports nationwide, including five in Washington, scheduled to have their air traffic control towers closed June 15.
Reach Ralph Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2289. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.
Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at email@example.com or call 715-2298.