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No sequester cuts reach Wadena yet

Automatic federal spending cuts known as the “sequester” that took effect earlier this year so far have not trickled down to Wadena. County, city and school officials are as yet unsure about what kind of cuts will affect their respective organizations.

“I just don’t know of anything right now,” said Wadena City Administrator Brad Swenson. “There probably will be (effects), but I don’t know what they would be.”

Swenson said that the city government is normally briefed on legislative issues that affect them by a statewide organization called the League of Minnesota Cities. Their upcoming conference in June will likely feature more information on the sequester, as cities prepare for deciding on their budgets in the fall, he said.

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden said that so far there have no sequester effects either in the city budget or at M State Wadena, where he is the business manager.

 County Treasurer/Auditor Judy Taves also had yet to find out about any potential effects of the sequester on funding. Other than a slight increase in FICA being taken from employee paychecks, Taves hasn’t seen signs of the sequester around the Wadena county government.  

“So far we haven’t felt it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not coming,” she said.

There are already emerging indicators that the county will not be completely unscathed by cuts. Although  so far there is no evidence the sequester will affect it directly, Wadena’s Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) may have less federal money to give to local citizens as part of programs that help the environment.  Darren Newville, district manager of Wadena SWCD, gave examples of initiatives like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which takes marginal agricultural land and switches it over to native grasses and trees, and the Environmental  Quality Incentive Program (EQUIP), which  gives money to help farmers buy larger equipment that would make their farms more environmentally friendly, like an ag-waste containment system. Newville said the federal incentives that are given out locally as part of the programs may be reduced by the sequester.

“Those (programs) could be affected down the road,” he said.

Wadena County Human Services also channels federal money to local citizens, but Director Paul Sailer hasn’t seen any hints so far that those funds will dry up as a result of the sequester. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially known as “food stamps” was one example Sailer gave. All of that is federal money, he said, but right now there is no indication programs like food stamps will be cut for Wadena County.

“I’m not hearing about anything specific for our county,” Sailer said. “I think at least for our department, this doesn’t look like a significant matter…”

The Wadena-Deer Creek school district will be directly affected by cuts for their fiscal year 2013-2014, which begins July 1. However, Nancy Ramler, who plans the school’s budget, does not yet know how much in cuts to expect. She anticipates that WDC’s “title” grants, which fund programs to help children who fall behind in class, will be reduced by as much as $30,000, Ramler said. However, that’s out of a total WDC budget of $9.5 million and an approximate $404,000 budget just for title programs, so the cuts are relatively minor, she said.

Ramler said the other area to be affected by sequestration is the school meal program. WDC’s nutrition budget is around $757,000, 39 percent of which is federal money. She said the worst-case scenario for WDC would mean about a $23,000 funding loss for the meal program.

No programs will be cut entirely, Ramler said.