By Sharon McBrayer
HICKORY, NC — Sequestration, that dirty word floating around the halls of Congress, could force Hickory’s airport tower to close and cuts to social services, education and police.
The possibility of forced federal spending cuts could have real affects on local programs. The deadline for a deal on the federal budget deficit is March 1 or sequestration will result in $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts.
Federal Aviation Administration is making plans to reduce its expenses by approximately $600 million for the rest of fiscal year 2013, according to information from the administration. One of the cuts being considered is closing more than 100 air traffic control towers.
Hickory Regional Airport is one of five airports in North Carolina that made the list of potential tower cuts, according to the FAA. If needed, those cuts would start being made in April, the FAA has said.
The air traffic control tower at Hickory Regional Airport could be closed, according to the FAA.
The tower operation is an FAA contract and Hickory doesn’t run it, according to the city.
“At the Hickory Regional Airport, we have had a contract tower program for almost 15 years,” said Terry Clark, manager of Hickory Regional Airport. “This program has provided great service for us and it has provided important air traffic safety services to our flying community.”
Dana Kaminske, communications specialist for Hickory , said cutting out the tower would not affect air traffic being able to fly in or out of Hickory Regional Airport. Air traffic would continue and FAA guidelines would remain in effect, she said.
According to information from the FAA, most airports in the country don’t have control towers. Those airports — nearly 20,000 — operate as uncontrolled ones, compared to about 500 airports in the country with control towers.
Kaminske said the city doesn’t know the full impact the potential budget cuts could have but officials have contacted federal lawmakers to express concern with the budget cuts.
The city contacted U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, U.S. Reps. Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx and Mark Meadows, Kaminske said.
The Catawba County Department of Social Services estimates it could lose more than $500,000 in federal funds that pays for direct services, and nearly $80,000 that pays for administrative costs in the department.
Possible cuts include those to senior nutrition programs, energy assistance for low income residents and child care subsidies, according to Catawba County Department of Social Services. It estimates more than $24,000 would be cut from the Senior Morning Out, Meals on Wheels and nutritional supplement programs. Those programs accept donations from the public, say officials.
County social services also estimates it could lose $ 44,100 for its low income energy assistance program that helps people who qualify to pay their heating and cooling bills, said Margaret Allen, public information officer for social services.
The biggest federal cut to Catawba County Social Services could be $ 454,684 in child care development funding, which is a daycare subsidy to help pay for daycare for parents who qualify so they can work or go to school, Allen said. Some cuts in administrative costs would be in grants for things such as senior transportation, foster and child welfare programs, Allen said. There are no cuts anticipated to child protective services, she said.
Allen said the department would do its best to minimize the impact to people any federal cuts might cause. The potential cuts would be difficult for the department because they would come at the end of the fiscal budget year and it’s harder to make adjustments at that point, she said.
While any cuts would impact programs, Allen said it’s difficult at this point to say how many people could be affected.
According to information from The White House, other potential federal cuts in North Carolina include:
• $25.4 million in funding for primary and secondary education that could affect 350 teacher and aide jobs. It also would lose an estimated $16.8 million for around 200 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities.
• An estimated 1,500 children would lose Head Start and Early Head Start services.
• $401,000 in Justice Assistance grants support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.
Other cuts in the state include those to public health, funding for vaccines for children and cuts to civilian Department of Defense employees.