How will the sequester hit at home?

The federal government budget was to be $85 billion smaller today, but what impact that reduction will have on the Fort Dodge area remains largely unknown, according to local officials.

Air travel is dependent on federal air traffic controllers and security agents, but Rhonda Chambers, the director of aviation at Fort Dodge Regional Airport, said she hasn’t been advised of any direct, tangible local impact.

Improvements at the airport are paid for with the help of federal money, but no projects are underway now, she said.

”We’re not working on something we would have to stop,” Chambers said.

Defense spending will be affected by the across-the-board budget cuts, but what that will mean to the military units in Fort Dodge remains an open question.

”At this point, we just don’t know,” said Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood, a spokesman for the Iowa National Guard.

The Iowa National Guard has two units in Fort Dodge. They are the 133rd Test Squadron of the Iowa Air National Guard, and the 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery of the Iowa Army National Guard.

Hapgood said civilian employees may have to take 22 days off without pay beginning in late April as a result of the sequester. He said that amounts to one day a week until the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

He said that to help save money, the Iowa National Guard has essentially eliminated travel, deferred maintenance and may postpone purchases of new equipment.

The federal cuts could be felt in local classrooms.

Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of the Fort Dodge Community School District, said the district could lose $70,000 to $75,000. That money helps to pay for special education and supplemental reading programs commonly called Title I.

”Any amount with our budgets being what they are has an impact on us, but it definitely could be worse,” he said. ”The state has a bigger impact on us right now.”

Students accustomed to getting some help with their school work from senior citizens serving as Foster Grandparents may also feel some fallout from the sequester.

Jeanine Nemitz, the program’s local director, said it could lose $11,000.

She said she intends to keep all 40 Foster Grandparents employed. She said she’ll probably deal with the reduction by cutting the transportation budget that pays mileage to the participating senior citizens and pays for a contract with Dodger Area Rapid Transit.

If the transportation budget is trimmed, the Foster Grandparents won’t be going to the schools as often, according to Nemitz. She said they may be in schools four days a week instead of the current five days. That reduction, she added, would occur in April and May, the last two months of the academic year.

It remains unknown if the sequester will have any impact on the funding for Congregate Meals served to senior citizens at Citizens Central, according to Kim Wolfe, the director of the facility.

The Webster County Health Department could potentially lose 5 percent to 8 percent of its funding, according to Kari Prescott, the agency’s director.

”I can’t imagine that we would cut many services because our budget is already pretty minimal,” she said. ”We’ve already planned for the worst.”

The Fort Dodge Police Department regularly receives federal grants that help pay for equipment purchases.

”It may have an impact on our grant money, but we can’t predict what that will be right now,” said Police Chief Tim Carmody. ”It may impact our ability to purchase new equipment. I’m more concerned about the future of our federal grant money. It’s going to have an impact more so down the road than now.”

Messenger staff writers Peter Kaspari and Brandon L. Summers contributed to this report.