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Iowa City first responders don't anticipate drastic effects from sequestration

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | FEBRUARY 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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Federal agencies are preparing for Friday’s deadline for automatic spending cuts, including those to law enforcement and other first responders. While local agencies anticipate cuts, they don’t believe they will  have a drastic effect.

According to a report from the White House, Iowa could lose approximately $135,000 in Justice Assistance Grants. These grants help support law enforcement, crime prevention and education, drug treatment, and crime-victim and witness initiatives.

One official with the Johnson County Ambulance Service said currently the only effect sequestration would have on his budget is a 2 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rates, which also applies to all other medical providers.

“It’s not a huge chunk of our budget, and it’s not devastating in that effect,” Director Steve Spenler said. “That’s going to have profound impact on some other departments, and they may need to cut services, but Johnson County will be fine.”

Sequestration will go into effect on Friday if Congress does not act to delay its effects. Currently, $85 billion would have to be cut in the next seven months from areas of the budget ranging from education, defense, and research funding.

Other Iowa City first responders said the main threats they face from sequestration would be cuts to grants put into place this year.

One official with the Iowa City police said a $250,000 grant through the Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program of the U.S. Department of Justice, which allowed the department to hire two recent combat veterans as officers, would possibly be in jeopardy.

“Until [federal lawmakers] figure out what they’re doing, I’m not sure where it’s going to be,” Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla said. “We’re in the same boat as everyone else, waiting to see what happens.”

Iowa City Fire Chief Andy Rocca said his concerns would be over a grant he wrote for a traffic-control device. The device would allow fire trucks to change traffic signals as they approached to allow for quicker response times, in addition to being safer.

“We work at the local level and put a lot of work and energy, research … and it takes time to fill out the grant,” he said. “It would be a little disheartening if we don’t get it.”

Beyond local responders, the state of Iowa will also have to deal with cuts if the sequester goes into effect.

A spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad said the effects will be outlined in greater detail at a news conference by Department of Management Director David Roederer next week.

“The governor has instructed department and agency heads to do everything within their power to minimize the effects of these cuts and limit any service disruptions to needy Iowans,” Tim Albrecht said.


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