City and town officials in Massachusetts are warily watching negotiations over the pending fiscal crisis in Washington, although any financial effect on local budgets is probably months away.
Local officials said they are concerned about how cuts in the federal budget might hurt municipal finances if negotiations in Washington fail to avoid the year-end so-called fiscal cliff, which would trigger automatic tax increases and spending cuts in domestic and military spending.
Mayor Linda M. Balzotti of Brockton, echoing others, saw no immediate problems for local communities. Towns and cities are not vulnerable — at least not immediately — because money has already been appropriated for their budgets by local and state governments.
But later next year? That’s a different story.
“Over the next few months, as people assess the impact, it will hit us,” said Balzotti, who is worried in particular about community block grant money that can be used for parks and playgrounds.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which supports local communities, said if automatic cuts go through about $90 million would be cut statewide in 35 local government, school, and community-based programs.
That would include $18 million in Title 1 grants to school districts, $21.2 million for special education programs, and $7.3 million in community block grants, which help pay for economic development.
Heating help for people with low income would be cut $11.2 million through the $132.7 million Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, he said.
Those cuts would only happen if no deal is struck in Washington and automatic cuts go into effect.
Beckwith was also worried that negotiators would make a deal that averts the fiscal cliff but still cut programs crucial to community budgets.
“There could be lesser cuts, but the cuts would still be felt,” Beckwith said.
If no deal is reached and across-the-board cuts occur, Boston could see $10 million-$15 million in direct cuts, between March and the end of the fiscal year in June, said Jake Sullivan, the federal relations liaison for the city.
The money would come out of the budgets of departments such as Neighborhood Development, the Boston Housing Authority, the School Department, Boston Public Health, and police.
The cuts would be relatively small — the city budget is $2.4 billion — but the money helps create affordable housing, services for the elderly, and support for small businesses, he said. Cuts in service could start in March, he said.
Overall, the federal government provides about $300 million to the city, he said.
The city would also take a large indirect hit if funding were cut for research hospitals and universities in the city. In 2011, researchers in the city received $1.7 billion, he said.
In Braintree, Peter Morin, chief of staff for Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan, said an immediate worry is the emergency aid the federal government provides for disasters.
The town received money for Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and spring floods in 2010. But the future is what worries officials the most, he said. “The longer term is what creates the fear,” he said.
Matt Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org