Housing agency, labs brace for more sequester cutbacks

BAR HARBOR — Several area nonprofit organizations already under tight financing are expecting further reductions in funding because of federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

Sequestration rules have visibly affected Acadia National Park, prompting officials to open the visitors’ center and main roads nearly a month late this year. Now, officials with local nonprofits and the housing organization that provides assistance to hundreds of area low-income residents say they, too, will be affected by the federal belt tightening.

“For us, we are thinking a lot about what the impact will be, and we are anxious to figure out exactly what we will be looking at,” said Jerilyn Bowers, spokesperson for the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

At the Jackson Laboratory meanwhile, funding cutbacks and a general sense of uncertainty have already started to have an effect. The lab develops and maintains strains of mice for specific types of biomedical research and sells them to research institutions worldwide. In the United States, much of that research is funded by federal grants.

Jackson Lab officials say that cutbacks in funding that have already occurred, along with uncertainty over the future of research grants, have caused many lab customers to reduce their orders for mice. That drop has reversed a trend of consistent sales growth over the past several years.

At the Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island area housing authorities, which rely heavily on federal funds to operate, the sequester is expected to amount to an approximate 8 percent reduction in funds. That, however, comes on top of two consecutive years of operating under a continuing federal resolution instead of an actual budget, executive director Terry Kelley said. This has resulted in serious cutbacks and reliance on reserve accounts, he said.

All in all, the housing authority is dealing with funding cuts of nearly $1 million this year, before sequestration takes effect. The biggest chunk of funding cuts is hitting their rental assistance program, Kelley said, where more than $600,000 in losses is expected. That specific program has, in fact, seen a 40 percent reduction in funding over the past four years.

Nonprofit community health group Healthy Acadia relies on a combination of public and private funding to make their annual $1.6 million budget. The organization employs 12 people directly while using 40 percent of their budget to subcontract work to others.

The federal continuing resolution that has resulted from Congress’ inability to pass a budget for two years in a row has impacted the MDI Biolab with a 10 percent cut this current year and an expected 10 percent cut the next, the same as the housing authority. Sequestration cuts would come on top of that 20 percent reduction in funding.

The housing authority has had to dip into its reserves, because that is the direction they have been given by the federal housing administration. Kelley said they have been quite frugal with savings over the years so they have been able to do so, but that possibility is nearing its end.

The authority has cut back wherever they could, he said. Energy efficiency improvements have been made as much as possible, while staff has lost about 25 percent of their health benefits package. Only part-time employees have been hired and a “tremendous amount” of maintenance has been deferred.

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Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]