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Sedgwick County could feel $1.2 million loss in federal spending cuts

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, March 10, 2013, at 10:48 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 11, 2013, at 6:48 a.m.

As money funnels from Washington, D.C., to local government, so do spending cuts – estimated to be almost $1.2 million for Sedgwick County this year.

The cuts could affect as many as 128 positions at the county.

Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to housebound elderly people, could see almost $50,000 less in federal funding. The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program might take a hit of $169,241. Section 8 housing might receive $115,500 less than previously thought.

At the same time, the county is projecting a deficit of $2.7 million next year in property tax-supported funds, revised from an initial estimate of $2.3 million.

County commissioners have said they want to end next year with a balanced budget.

The loss of federal grant money “makes our challenge of providing services that much greater,” said Commissioner Dave Unruh. “With our other budget challenges, it is going to make it more difficult to have a balanced budget and I would expect there would be some painful cuts to decide on if we’re going to keep our budget balanced.”

Unruh and other commissioners attended the National Association of County Organizations’ annual conference last week and heard from an expert on the across-the-board federal cuts, called sequestration.

“He gave multiple scenarios about how it would play out,” Unruh said. “He couldn’t give us any (concrete) answers. It appears we’re going to be exposed to more than $1 million. My big concern is that we continue to have the funding we need and can take care of the grants to make sure that we’re providing public safety in the manner that we’re supposed to.”

The county’s adopted budget for this year was just more than $408 million. That includes property-tax and grant-supported funds.

The county expected to receive $15.4 million in federal grant money this year.

Federal grants have been a source of debate at times for commissioners.

Unruh said despite the uncertainty of cuts, “I think the majority of the commission will still pursue whatever revenue sources we can pursue to relieve pressure on property taxes. If those grants are available and most of them are competitive grants, it’s important that we get our community’s share of that funding and not let it by default go to another community.”

Commissioner Richard Ranzau has voted against applying for and accepting most federal grants since he was elected in 2010.

He said the sequestration “illustrates the point that I’ve made to anyone who’s dependent on the government for funding. If you’re dependent on the federal government, then your future is in their hands. You have to be willing to deal with it.”

Ranzau noted: “I hope they take it all out of the sustainable development grant program,” referring to a sustainable communities planning grant he voted against. The county has estimated it could receive $63,000 less from that grant.

Although $1.2 million presents a challenge, “Sedgwick County doesn’t have a lot of money at stake by Sedgwick County standards. Within the scale of our budget, it’s a relatively small funding source. It’s reasonable to think that there will be some impact and that impact will be concentrated in a relatively few departments that receive most of the funding,” said the county’s chief financial officer, Chris Chronis.

“We don’t see any reason at this point to think that there will be any significant changes required in Sedgwick County to reduce the shortfall. That’s obviously subject to change. But at this point, we think that we can adapt to the shortfall of revenues we expect without too much difficulty.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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