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Schools, local Corps of Engineers office affected by government shutdown

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By Mallory Bilger

While most life in Spencer County is moving on as usual, a few local institutions and workers are feeling the pinch of a partial federal government shutdown locally.

The partial shutdown has now lasted more than a week and is affecting offices like the local division of the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the Taylorsville Lake Dam. Corps park manager Lisa Freeman told The Spencer Magnet last week that two of the five local Corps employees were furloughed, including a maintenance employee and ranger Evan McKinney. Freeman said she and two other maintenance personnel are working to cover the jobs during the furlough. She said she and the other two employees currently working are in non-pay status until Congress passes a spending bill.
She said someone had to man the dam’s control tower every day of the year — no matter what the federal government was doing.
“We’re going to try and carry on as normally as possible,” Freeman said.
But the issues with the local Corps of Engineers office is not drastically affecting the Taylorsville Lake State Park, which is operated by state government. State-operated campgrounds and boat launching areas are open. Freeman said local issues included the possibility of the Corps office and the visitors center on Overlook Road operating on limited hours because of staff shortages.
“The overlook and things for now, they’ll be open. If this goes on for a long time, we may have to revisit that,” she said.
Freeman said anyone visiting the Corps office or the visitor’s center should consider calling 477-8882 before coming to ensure an employee is there.
Freeman did say that water quality reports would probably not be issued regularly until the shutdown was over.
“We can’t spend any money, so I’m not sure how we’ll get gas for the boat. That may have to be suspended,” she said.
McKinney — a Mount Eden newlywed — said he and his wife are hoping the situation in Washington resolves quickly.
“It does make times harsh, especially being newly married and recent home buyers,” McKinney said. “The uncertainly of the situation is what hurts the most. My wife and I pray that Washington can get their ducks in a row and put the 800,000 federal employees back on the payroll.”
The local public school system also could feel the pinch if the federal government doesn’t come back online soon. Spencer County Schools Chief Financial Officer Vicki Goodlett said it is still largely unclear as to how the shutdown might affect federal funding the district receives, which largely affects special education and the food service program.
“We really don’t know at this point,” she said.
Goodlett noted that food service employees could not be furloughed like other federal employees because the district must provide meals.
“We can’t send our food service people home,” she said. “They’re contracted. We still have to feed our students every day. A delay in funding? Oh yes, that will affect us.”
Goodlett forwarded communications she had with Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday on Friday that said 94 percent of United States Department of Education staff are currently furloughed. In the email he stated that USED grants awarded prior to the shutdown would continue to be paid, but that as of Oct. 1 districts might not receive timely reimbursements for food.
“In other words, if the federal shutdown continues for longer than a month, districts may face issues with getting timely reimbursement for meals served after Oct. 1,” Holliday wrote.
Goodlett said, not including food service personnel, the district has around 18 federally funded positions. She said many of those positions serve special needs students with individualized learning plans.
“Some people say, ‘Send them home.’ You can’t send them home. They do have a contract for the whole school year,” Goodlett said.
There is also some information that the Women, Infants and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program — commonly known as WIC — is suffering in parts of the country because of the shutdown. However, this is not currently the case locally. According to the Spencer County branch of the North Central Health District, local WIC participants are still receiving benefits and the department is accepting applications for new potential clients.