The County Voice

Frustration Over Sequestration Shows in Board Chambers

At their regular board meeting earlier this month, members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors jokingly suggested that they would rather go to jail than return a portion of their Secure Rural Schools funding to the federal government because of sequestration. According to news reports, Board Chairman Terry Swofford asked the Plumas sheriff if he had “room for five more?”

While we don’t expect it would ever get to the extent to where we find “boards behind bars,” it does show how sequestration will have definitive impacts at the local level and hamper all levels of government. And all joking aside, it also exemplifies the level of frustration among our county leaders as they continually try to provide vital services to their residents.

The SRS program was enacted in 2000 to provide assistance to counties and school districts affected by the decline in revenue from timber harvests on federal lands. Historically, rural communities and schools have relied upon a share of receipts from timber harvests to supplement local funding for education services and road.

Two-thirds of California’s counties receive SRS funding – an amount that topped $40 million in Fiscal Year 2012. For some counties, it’s a big chunk of change. Plumas, for example, received more than $4 million last fiscal year. It’s funding many counties rely on – and need. Under sequestration, though, counties may be required to return 5.1 percent of their FY12 funding.

And that’s the rub; many county officials across the country are questioning why they would need to return a percentage of their FY12 funding just because they received those dollars during the current fiscal year when sequestration went into effect. It appears the federal government’s policy is that payments count toward the fiscal year in which the payments are actually distributed, whether they are delayed or not. And thus, sequestration comes into play.

This isn’t purely a rural issue; for example, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties all receive this annual allocation from the federal government. Across the country, nearly 750 counties are involved in the SRS program and are currently facing the same potential fiscal and administrative headache as Plumas and other counties in the Golden State as a result of sequestration.

Stay tuned to see how this all plays out. It’s just one example of how the lack of compromise in Washington, D.C. will have a pronounced trickle-down effect – eventually impacting our counties and communities.

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