Today's a dark day for federal agencies forced to make steep budget cuts required by sequestration. And while those cuts will eventually touch all levels of government, from school districts to courtrooms, local officials say they're adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
"We have not fully identified the full impact," said Jack Volpato, Eddy County Commission chairman. "If there are cuts in any kind of federal funding, I think those would be federal grant such as law enforcement and road grants. We get the PILT grant (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) but I'm not sure where they are on the authorization process on that. The PILT funding could have a potential impact on us. But I don't know if the PILT program is included in the cuts."
Last year, the county received about $3 million in PILT funding, which is given to the county as compensation for federal lands within the county's border that cannot be taxed.
Volpato said the county is financially stable and previous commissions, as well as the current governing body, have had the foresight to keep putting a substantial amount into a reserve fund for a rainy day.
"Last year we put back a $1 million into the reserve fund," Volpato said. "I don't think we will take a big hit like some of the larger counties such as Bernalillo County. They could take a real big hit because they have a lot of federally funded projects, way more than we do."
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway and City Administrator Jon Tully agreed that sequestration wouldn't have any immediate effects on the city's operations. Tully said 85 percent of the city's general fund comes from local gross receipt taxes.
"We don't have a lot of direct federal monies that I think would be impacted," Tully said. "We have some federal monies for our transit program, and I think it's kind of hard to know whether or not those funds would get affected. ... It's kind of hard to prepare for something that you don't know. If we were somehow to have reduced federal funding for our transportation program, I think we could find a way to keep it going."
Likewise, Carlsbad school district officials are wondering how the cuts will affect certain programs, particularly those funded by federal grants. The availability of free and reduced-price school lunches for low-income students is also a concern.
"Considering the fact that most of our funding comes from the state, we're not sure exactly how it's going to impact us," said Carlsbad Municipal Schools Superintendent Gary Perkowski. "We do have federal monies involved, especially with Title 1 and special education. Those programs probably will be affected. We will have to wait and see what they do."
Perkowski said he hopes Congress can come to an agreement, because the district can't afford to lose teachers and classroom aides who are paid by federal programs.
"We will have to figure out how we're going to pay them. We are not looking at lay offs or reducing staff. We will just have to move things around," he said.
Higher education in Carlsbad may also be impacted. New Mexico State University could see a cut of as much as $13 million.
As of the last fiscal year, NMSU's expenditure budget for the entire system was $677 million. The school received about $163 million from the federal government. That means, if NMSU does experience an 8.2 percent cut, there would be about $13 million less coming into the university.
But officials at the Carlsbad campus say they aren't yet sure how much of that burden would be absorbed by local students and staff. "We don't know yet. If it affects New Mexico state government, there's a possibility we'll see some cuts," said Khushroo Ghadiali, spokesman for NMSU Carlsbad.
Eddy County Sheriff Scott London said the sequestration will have a "minimal" effect on his department. "Grants we receive may be suspended, so we may have to cut back on some special operations overtime issues, but the sheriff's department is pretty stable," he said.
Officials at the Department of Energy, which has oversight of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, said they had no comment about how local operations would be impacted.
But the DOE announced in February that employees should be prepared for temporary furloughs and cuts to "vital programs."