County preparing for potential cuts

Mar. 06, 2013 @ 07:36 AM

After Congress let slide $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to the federal budget, Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen wasn’t taking any chances.

On Monday Classen sent an email to county department heads asking they prepare for the local consequences surrounding the upcoming debt ceiling debate. Classen said that, if Congress passes on a rise in the debt ceiling, it could have long-lasting effects to programs in the county.

In his memo, Classen asked department heads to look at individual budgets in relation to federal grants as well as state programs that may be tied to federal money.

If federal cuts are implemented due to the debt ceiling, it could effect the federally funded programs in the 2012-13 budget.

“It’s going to be really hard to make up for any losses in federal dollars ... if we have those losses,” Classen said Tuesday. “That’s a big ‘if,’”

Programs tied to the Department of Social Services, Rutherford County Transit and the library system could see the biggest impact if the debt ceiling is not raised.

Classen asked that departments take steps to bring expenditures to a level under the federal funds actually received. He said, if that can’t happen, departments should “look elsewhere” in the budget to make up for any shortfalls that might occur.

He also suggested that departments look at state programs that receive federal funds and asked that those funds be scaled back to what has already been received.

“The problem is that it’s not just about federal money,” Classen said. “It also affects federal dollars that are passed through.”

On Tuesday Congressional Republicans unveiled a plan that was aimed as easing issues regarding sequestration which went into effect Friday. The bill is meant to avert a government shutdown that could take hold on March 27.

“Given that they’ve let sequestration go through, we have to prepare for the debt ceiling to go through as well,” Classen said.

He said that the only backlash that sequestration or defaulting on the federal debt will have on taxpayers in Rutherford County will be if programs axed are kept in place by county commissioners and supplanted by local dollars.

“In times past, when the government let the debt ceiling fall through, they have gone back and made good on the cuts,” Classen said. “But, there is no guarantee this time.”