Local Organizations Brace for Sequester Cuts

The federal sequester is less than 24 hours away and with no deal between Republicans and Democrats in sight, across the board spending cuts will take affect as early as Friday. This news has many organizations in our community bracing for cuts.

Undoubtedly one of the most concerning cuts to come from the sequester will be to education. An estimated $8.5 million is set to be lost statewide over the next year.

According to Don Stevens, Interim Superintendent for the Merrill School District, the district is anticipating $205,000 in budget cuts for the next academic year. Other local school districts will likely face similar cuts. Stevens says the majority of those cuts would affect the districts most needy populations. Up to $40,000 will be cut from programming for Title I students, that is disadvantaged students. Special education programs will also be effected to the tune of $70,000. Stevens says they're not going to let these cuts keep them from serving these students, but they will effect how they serve them.

"If we're going to have to cut a staff, there is going to be some students that are going to have a shrinking amount of time, the neediest of our regular education students, there's going to be a shrinking time they're going to have extra help," Stevens explained.

Head Start programs will also be affected. The White House estimates that in Wisconsin services will be eliminated for approximately 900 children. Stevens says the Head Start program in Merrill will be OK for the time being, as they have a small reserve fund. But he adds that fund will be drained by the end of next year.

After school programs will also see a cut in funding. In Merrill that could mean up to a $10,000 cut per school. Stevens says this will likely result in the district having to cut back on the number of days they host after school programs.

The good news, if there is any, Stevens says the effects of the cuts won't be felt until the next fiscal year which starts in July. That means parents and students should expect to see diminished resources when they return to school next fall.

Local law enforcement is also facing budget cuts as a result of the sequester. Statewide Wisconsin will loose more than $200,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement.

Deputy Chief Bryan Hilts of the Wausau Police Department tells NewsChannel 7 that the federal funding their department receives each year fluctuates. One grant they know will be affected, however, is the Edward Burn JAG Memorial Grant. Last year the department received $7,500 from the grant. That enabled them to purchase surveillance equipment for crash scene reconstruction. A few years ago they received $20,000. That money they used to outfit a new squad car with equipment including a computer, radar and a dash cam. It's purchases like these that Deputy Chief Hilts says really helps to keep the community safe.

"Two things, either we wouldn't be able to provide that service and we'd have to turn to the county to do that or the State Patrol to do that. Or, perhaps, we would have our own team and have to borrow equipment and of course that delays responses," Deputy Chief Hilts told NewsChannel 7.

The Burn grant isn't the only grant the department stands to loose.

"Often times the federal government will give grants to state organizations to administer and then those grants are administered and the funds are distributed to local agencies," Deputy Chief Hilts said.

No matter what happens, the department will still be able to operate at full capacity. But if the sequester does occur, don't expect to see any beefed up patrols, as the department currently receives federal funding to cover overtime expenses.

The effects of the sequester will also be felt among healthcare providers. In Wausau, Aspirus is bracing to loose approximately $1.5 million in the next year thanks to a 2% cut in Medicare payments. With Medicare covering less and a growing number of seniors, the hospital is working hard to streamline it's processes to ensure the quality of it's care remains unaffected by budget cuts.

"There's less utilization as we look at better ways to manage patient populations, trying to keep people out of the hospital, attempts to prevent re-admissions of patients to the hospitals and use less ancillary testing where we can do that and still provide a quality product," Sidney Sczygelski of Aspirus explained.

Public health departments are also facing cuts. The Marathon County Health Department has a yearly budget of $4.7 million, 25% of which is federally funded. If the sequester does occur, they promise they will still be able to provide key resources, such as preventing controlled communicable diseases. But they will have to cut back in other areas.

"What will be impacted are a lot of our chronic disease prevention programs, which we receive federal and state funding with," Joan Theurer, Health Officer for the Marathon County Health Department shared.

Theurer adds that like many other departments, they won't know to what extent they will have to cut these other programs for another two or three months.

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