City halls carry on despite shutdown, but sales-tax revenue might become a worry
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Oct 07, 2013 | 2670 views |  0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis stands in a city park he hopes to improve with money from a federally-backed bond. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis stands in a city park he hopes to improve with money from a federally-backed bond. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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While the federal government remains closed until further notice, the offices at the Calhoun County Administration building, like all local government agencies across the country, remain open for business.

Since the failure of Congress last week to pass a budget before its Oct. 1 deadline, some 800,000 government workers remain furloughed and national parks and organizations such as NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency remain closed as the federal government enters the second week of a shutdown. But some local officials aren’t concerned about any short-term effects when it comes to doing their jobs.

“It’s something we’ve dealt with before and we managed through it,” said Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner, referring to the last government shutdown in 1995. “The majority of what we do won’t be affected.”

That includes continuing to fund projects with federal money, such as scheduled highway and road repairs that in most cases have already-approved money from many sources tied to them.

“That’s money awarded to us by the state from federal funds,” said Calhoun County Engineer Brian Rosenbalm on projects associated with the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program. “That money has already been secured, so they can’t take it away.”

But what effects a prolonged federal shutdown can have on small governments isn’t clear, said Gregory Minchak, a spokesman with the National League of Cities. Minchak said while approved funding would likely remain secure for most local governments, right now officials aren’t sure what’s going to happen to loans and grants with fast-approaching deadlines.

“If the grant deadline was today, is that still going to be processed?” Minchak said. “There are still a lot of things up in the air and a lot of uncertainty.”

Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis, who is looking to secure a federal bond for his long-planned city park improvement project, said even the threat of delayed federal money is only a short-term hindrance.

“In the budget we included a payment on the loan, but these take a year to process,” said Willis on Monday from the park he hopes to start rebuilding in early 2015. “If we’re still in shutdown by then, we got a lot bigger problems than Weaver’s park.”

More pressing right now for the mayor is that many Weaver residents are federal employees and thus not receiving a regular paycheck.

“I’m concerned about the citizens of Weaver, because if they’re out of work, they’re not out getting gas,” Willis said. “They’re at home saving every penny.”

The loss of sales tax revenue is the biggest threat for small governments if a dragged-out shutdown continues to last for weeks, said Minchack.

“Any city that relies on sales tax, that’s going to take a big hit,” Minchak said. “And that’s not something they’ll feel right away, but down the road is when it will hit them.”

Projecting how bad that hit might be is still a little premature, said Ken Smith, the deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities. Smith said cities won’t have sales tax numbers until the end of the month, but he suspects even if the shutdown ended tomorrow, there would still be a noticeable amount of penny-pinching across the state.

“Obviously the longer that goes on the worse it would become,” Smith said. “People in those situations are likely only buying the essentials.”

Some federal agencies continue to operate during the shutdown, including essential services such as military and federal disaster assistance programs. Lee Helms, who worked with Calhoun County in the aftermath of the April 2011 tornadoes to secure funding for cleanup and recovery, said in the event of a catastrophic event, the U.S. government would still have the resources available to help out its local counterparts.

“In my career, Congress has never failed to pass an emergency declaration, even when funding was tight,” Helms said, noting FEMA workers were in the state and along the Gulf Coast this weekend due to the threat of a tropical storm. “I can’t imagine that would change now.”

Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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