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02-10-05 Bush’s budget could chop local programs

By Timothy Cox

  Local leaders are concerned -- but not panicked -- about the deep cuts to domestic programs in President Bush's proposed $2.5 trillion budget he submitted to Congress this week.

  A number of programs that have delivered millions of dollars in assistance to the Grand Lake St. Marys area are on the chopping block. Most local officials said they are confident members of Congress will intervene and keep vital funding streams intact.
  There already are indications Bush's budget faces a tough battle in Congress. Some Congressman have called the budget "dead on arrival."
  "This scares me a little bit," Mercer County Community Development Director Larry Stelzer said. Stelzer's office has helped local governments tap into a number of infrastructure and business expansion grants through the years. "We've gotten millions and millions of dollars through Community Development Block Grant programs."
  CDBG programs have generated $9 million over the past 15 years just in Mercer County, Stelzer said.  Bush's budget proposes consolidating the many CDBG programs into one program run by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The overall budget also would be slashed.
  "That's been a scared cow for years so hopefully Congress will save it," Stelzer said. "If this goes through, it will hurt our attempts to get infrastructure dollars."
  At SOURCES Community Network Services in Celina, a social services agency that runs a number of state and federal programs to assist the poor, the agency's main source of operational revenue is in jeopardy.
  A $148,000 Community Services Block Grant provides a bulk of the agency's operating budget, SOURCES Director Debra Linn said. SOURCES has a total annual budget of about $850,000, but most of that money must be spent on direct services to clients and cannot be used to pay salaries or other costs of doing business.
  "It's ($148,000) relatively small, but it keeps us standing," Linn said.
  This is not the first time CSBG funds have been on the chopping block.
  "This has happened before where the president zeroed it out and it got put back in," Linn said. "We don't get too excited this early in the game."
  Another popular SOURCES program, heating assistance through the federal Home Energy Assistance Program, also is to be curtailed under Bush's budget. That would mean fewer clients could be served, Linn said.
  "These are all vitally needed programs," Linn said. "When they cut these budgets, they're hurting the most vulnerable in our population."
  Ohio also would stand to lose $51 million in vocational education funding and that has Tri Star Career Compact officials concerned. A federal Perkins grant of $140,000 supports Tri Star's career tech curriculum and helps its nine member schools pay for equipment, field trips, training and other costs associated with career development education. The money also covers one employee's salary.
  The Perkins revenue has been flat for three years. Any reduction would significantly hurt Tri Star's ability to administer the career tech curriculum, Director Tim Buschur said.
  Many area law enforcement agencies have received grants in recent years to pay for staffing, computers, in-car equipment and other technology upgrades. Many of those programs would be dropped or scaled back as part of Bush's budget.
  Rockford police Chief Paul May estimates his department has received $50,000 or more in recent years through various grants. Rockford police have upgraded their computers, bought digital cameras and outfitted some of their cruisers with in-car video equipment, May said.
  Even if law enforcement grants are phased out, it won't affect Rockford in the next couple of years, May said. His cash-strapped department does not have any money available to provide local matching money required for most grants.
  Bush's proposed budget would be the largest in the nation's history and includes a $427 billion deficit, despite the proposed cuts to domestic programs. Defense spending and homeland security would see healthy increases under Bush's plan. The budget also does not include an anticipated $81 billion supplemental spending bill to fund the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information from the Office of Management & Budget.
  The 150 program reductions and eliminations would save about $20 billion in 2006, the OMB report said. Programs targeted for reduction or elimination were picked out based on whether they meet the nation's needs, whether they produce results and whether Bush feels they are a good use of taxpayer money, OMB Director Joshua Bolten said in a news briefing.


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