Dundalk armory’s maintenance shop to feel sequester
Wednesday, 06 March 2013 12:54

Cardin worries about BWI and county services

by Ben Boehl

    The threat of the so-called “sequester” of federal budget spending is making national news, but the effects could be felt here in Baltimore County and Dundalk.
    According to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s office, sequestration is a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. The cuts would be split evenly between defense and domestic discretionary spending.
    The plan is to get a handle on the growth of the U.S. national debt, which is now at more than $16 trillion. The sequester was supposed to take place on Jan. 1, but Congress pushed it back to March 1 as part of the fiscal cliff deal at the end of their last session.

Feeling the effects of the sequester will be Field Maintenance Shop 2, located at 1218 North Point Road in Dundalk.
    The shop was rebuilt  in 2008 with a $7.1 million makeover. Upgrades included a new 20,000-square-foot building with eight vehicle bays. It serves 15 Maryland Army National Guard units throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area.
    The shop is home to 13 mechanics who nervously wait to see what will happen with the federal budget.
    Sgt. First Class John Schezo, the non-commissioned officer who supervises the maintenance shop, said that personnel at the shop work four 10-hour days and they would be reduced to 32 hours a week. He expects the sequester to last about 22 days and said it could happen anywhere from April 1 to Oct. 1.
    “All the guys here are talking about is the sequester. Right now, we don’t know how we are going to be affected,” Scherzo said.
    “We are not hoping for it, but we are preparing for it. Our guys are prepared but you can only prepare so much when you live paycheck to paycheck.”
    Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, public affairs officer for the Maryland National Guard, said that the sequester will not come as a complete surprise as the military must inform the soldiers 30 days in advance of any actions resulting from the sequester, but it will be tougher on married couples who are both in the military or homes that only have one income.
    “We have informed all our soldiers to be ready, but we don’t know what will happen,” Kohler said.
    Sgt. Sarah Neel said that soldiers at the Dundalk shop are worried about that uncertainty, as many of them have children, and two of the Dundalk Armory’s soldiers drive down from Pennsylvania each day.
    “We are worried and irritated,” Neel said.
    One concern of potential local importance is if there is a natural disaster, such as a heavy snowstorm. Kohler noted that a state emergency is called by the governor and that the state, not the federal government, would fund disaster relief efforts.
    “Our ability to respond to a state emergency is not going to be affected. When we are called to duty, it will be as state personnel,” Kohler said. “Protecting lives and property is still the first propriety.”
    As the Dundalk shop waits to see what the government will do, Sen. Cardin said that the sequester is not smart budgeting. He would rather see the county develop a fair and comprehensive deficit reduction plan that is based on the nation’s needs.
    “Sequestration is not just about numbers. If it occurs, it will take a terrible toll on millions of Americans,” Cardin wrote in a statement.
    “Sequestration will force indiscriminate cuts in defense, education, food safety, medical research, law enforcement, job training and agricultural programs, among many others.”
    Cardin visited Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport last week to discuss what the sequester will do to air travelers and federal employees who work at the airport.
    “Sequestration is going to take a tremendous toll on Marylanders and our economy,” Cardin said at the airport. “Air travelers will feel its effects, which will increase as these indiscriminate cuts continue.  BWI Marshall Airport is an important economic hub for our state, transporting millions of passengers and millions of pounds of cargo a year. Sequestration is a self-inflicted wound that will mean long lines for passengers, hurt business and result in furloughs for workers and a loss of revenue for our state.”
    In addtion to transportation, Cardin has expressed worry about education as the Maryland Board of Estimates projects a loss of $55 million in funding for education in the state, which could mean a loss of 500 teachers, as well as 900 children who would not be able to enroll in Head Start.
    On Friday, Cardin was in Towson to meet with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and members of the Baltimore County Council to discuss the impact of sequestration on local government. 
    Cardin’s office released a statement that Baltimore County officials project major cuts in education in the upcoming school year because of sequestration. 
    Ellen Kobler, spokesperson from Baltimore County, did not confirm or deny Cardin’s office’s claim, but did say that the county is  preparing for the possibility of the sequester.
    “Our budget officials are monitoring the situation carefully, particularly related to education funding,” Kobler said. “If and when the cuts directly impact Baltimore County, we will work to manage the budget in a fiscally responsible manner. “