Deal or no deal, debt clash could hurt Calhoun County
by Brooke Carbo
bcarbo@annistonstar.com
Jul 27, 2011 | 4349 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Depot workers are shown on the job in this file photo. Some officials fear proposed legislation affecting federal workers at the Anniston Army Depot could slow down Calhoun County’s economy. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Depot workers are shown on the job in this file photo. Some officials fear proposed legislation affecting federal workers at the Anniston Army Depot could slow down Calhoun County’s economy. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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In the final days before Congress’ Aug. 2 deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling and keep the U.S. out of default, locals are keeping a close eye on the increasingly heated debate in Washington.

The federal government supplies more than 8,000 local jobs through the Anniston Army Depot and the Center for Domestic Preparedness alone making it the largest employer in Calhoun County by a long shot. Hundreds more work for defense contractors such as BAE Systems. Some are worried that even if a compromise is reached, the trillions in spending cuts dominating plans from both sides of the aisle could hit the county with a vengeance.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, is Calhoun County’s voice in the partisan fray.

“With Alabama’s unemployment rate again nearing 10 percent, this debate is really about what is best for our economy in order to create more jobs,” Rogers said in a statement emailed to the Star on Tuesday. “Speaker (John) Boehner and Senate Majority Leader (Harry) Reid are working to find Congressional bipartisan solutions. While I am reviewing those options, I believe they should start with significant spending reductions and no tax increases.”

Those spending reductions are what have some worried and others tight-lipped.

Requests for a statement from the Army Depot, which has a workforce four times the size of any other county employer, were directed to the U.S. Army public affairs office in Washington, D.C. The county’s third largest employer, the CDP, did not wish to speculate either.

“The President believes this situation will be resolved in a timely manner and avoid any disruption in government operations or payments,” read an official statement from the CDP, emailed Tuesday. CDP officials directed further inquires to the national Office of Management and Budget.

Local government officials were more forthcoming with their concerns.

Anniston’s chief finance officer Danny McCullars remained optimistic but said the city programs most vulnerable to federal budget cuts are the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME program, both of which provide assistance to low to moderate income families, as well as transportation dollars administered through the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“By and large we are fairly self-sufficient outside of those particular programs,” McCullars said.

According to Dick Lindsey, a consultant to the Community Development Department, the CDBG received more than $700,000 in federal funds and the HOME program received $475,000, the majority of which is used to provide housing and recreation. Lindsey did not share McCullars’ optimism.

“Congress has gone after these programs in the past,” he said. “They’ve cut our budget by 16 percent this coming fiscal year already.”

The county could face similar budget restraints. Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner said his office could see cuts to highway funds for roadwork and federal grants administered by the county such as the court system and Habitat for Humanity.

“We will be hit but we’ll get by,” he insisted but warned that local organizations that find their federal funding slashed should not look to the county to subsidize their budgets.

“We just don’t have any way to do that. We’re going to live within our means,” he explained. “You can’t keep asking for more and more money and expect it to keep coming.”

The JSU Writing Project, a professional development site for local teachers, has already had its federal funding eliminated according to director Gloria Horton.

“We’ve got to find other means of funding,” Horton said. “The money is going to run out at some point but we’re not going to give up hope.”

McClellan Development Authority director Robin Scott said he did not expect the MDA to be directly affected by any federal spending cuts. Of course as McCullars noted, the city’s budget is funded by tax revenue and therefore is indirectly affected by a weak economy just as potential buyers of McClellan property would be limited.

Martha McNaron of Anniston sat outside Rogers’s Anniston office Tuesday hoping to express her concern over the stalled negotiations in Washington. She said she felt more balance was needed than was provided by the Cut, Cap and Balance Act Rogers supported last week that was later tabled by the Senate.

“They’re at such a stalemate,” she said. “I hope he understands there has to be some compromise.”

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Deal or no deal, debt clash could hurt Calhoun County by Brooke Carbo
bcarbo@annistonstar.com

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