BRATTLEBORO -- Unanswered phones, unanswered questions and a handful of temporarily unemployed workers are the local markers of the federal government's partial shutdown.
On the second day of federal cutbacks prompted by a congressional budget dispute, some Windham County offices and services that rely on federal employees, expertise and funding remained largely unaffected.
But there was widespread concern that any long-term shutdown could have much more profound effects.
"For right now, we are OK," said Christine Hart, Brattleboro Housing Authority executive director.
But Hart added this: "We hope the Congress will find a resolution to this impasse shortly."
To be sure, there were immediate effects when the shutdown -- fueled by an epic, ongoing political standoff over President Barack Obama's health-care reform effort -- went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
On Wednesday, those effects were apparent to anyone calling Brattleboro's USDA Service Center on Vernon Street.
A recorded message at the Farm Service Agency advised that "I am on furlough due to the lapse in the federal government funding" and added, "I look forward to returning your message once funding has been restored."
Ditto the Rural Development office and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, where an employee's message advised callers that, "Due to the shutdown in the federal government, I'm unable to take your call."
Websites for those agencies displayed little more than a furlough message.
Layoffs also hit the Vermont National Guard, which said approximately 450 federal technicians were placed on a "non-pay, non-duty status" as of Tuesday.
"The Vermont National Guard continues to assess the situation and to work with the national leadership to implement measures to help mitigate negative impacts that furloughs may place on our solders, airmen and their families," said Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, Vermont's adjutant general.
"The guard will remain vigilant and be as ready as possible to respond to the state of Vermont should the need arise for the guard to assist in an emergency capacity," Cray added.
It was unclear how the furloughs may have affected the guard's Westminster Armory. Calls were referred to Capt. Chris Gookin, a state public affairs officer who said he could not provide a local breakdown of shutdown-related layoffs.
Gookin noted that Cray also postponed the guard's October drill weekend.
Some other federal agencies remained unaffected.
The Veterans Health Administration's Brattleboro Community-Based Outpatient Clinic is running normally, and officials do not expect that to change.
"We're on a two-year budget, so this budget cycle doesn't really affect us," said Naaman Horn, a VA spokesman based in White River Junction.
"Veterans health care is a critical need, and we are continuing to function," Horn said. "All the hospitals are open. All of our normal health-care functions are fully functional."
The same is true for the federal courthouse in Brattleboro -- at least for now.
Jeff Eaton, the Burlington-based clerk of court for Vermont's U.S. District Court, said the judiciary has funding to run normally through Oct. 15.
If Congress does not resolve the budget issue by then, the courts would continue to operate through an act that "allows for essential work to continue," Eaton said.
But that would mean a scaled-back court system.
"It will be up to our district and all the other districts to develop a plan for what is determined to be the essential work of the courts," Eaton said. "We are in the process of developing those."
Also unchanged are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations at Townshend Dam and at Jamaica's Ball Mountain Dam, though there is longer-term uncertainty about staffing at those West River locations.
"There are no changes expected in the very near term for our operations at the federal flood-control projects, the associated recreation areas and the reservoirs," said Larry Rosenberg, public affairs chief for the Army Corps of Engineers New England.
Rosenberg said the Townshend Lake recreation area already is closed for the season. Ball Mountain's camping area will close as scheduled after Columbus Day.
Officials also said the Winhall Brook camping area remains open, though the recreation.gov website for reservations no longer is operational due to the governmental shutdown.
The Army Corps is able to maintain local staffing through the use of multiyear funding, Rosenberg said. But he added that, while the Army Corps will remain in a position to respond to emergencies, a prolonged budgetary impasse will affect staffing at areas including Townshend and Ball Mountain.
"Eventually, these dollars are going to run out," Rosenberg said. "And as they run out, employees are going to be furloughed."
Gov. Peter Shumlin has decried the federal furloughs, saying those employees "do not deserve to be pawns in a game of political chicken."
Shumlin's office also has said the state is "well-positioned" to deal with short-term shortfalls in federal funding.
But some officials in Montpelier are concerned about a lengthy shutdown.
While Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments are not directly impacted, "some federal programs like Three Squares should be in place at least for October but would likely be on hold in a prolonged shutdown," said Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding.
"There are some other critical programs that rely on federal funds like Reach Up, where we will pay to provide benefits for now and ask for reimbursement from the feds later," Spaulding added. "Based on prior experience, we expect that to occur, but, obviously, if a shutdown looks like it will drag on, we will need to re-evaluate our position because no state has the capacity to pick up federal program costs."
Back in Brattleboro, housing authority administrators have been left on their own to evaluate questions about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"The shutdown so far affects us only in that, if we have compliance questions or HUD systems (of which there are many) don't work properly, we have no one to assist with the issues," Hart said.
The shutdown also has come at an inopportune time, as the authority is embarking on a major new housing project.
"The impact on our redevelopment of Melrose -- Red Clover Commons -- is that we do not have access to the HUD staff we need to be consulting with on permits, regulatory matters, etc.," Hart wrote in an e-mail to the Reformer.
"We can keep going without them," she said, "but it would be much better to be getting the answers to our questions now rather than later."
Eventually, the authority will have to deal with funding issues if the federal government does not resume normal operations.
"Anything past three weeks will definitely start to impact our ability to manage the HUD programs in the manner in which they have dictated we manage them and could have significant impacts on our ability to pay landlords," Hart said.
The shutdown also has raised some financial concerns for Turning Point of Windham County.
The addiction-recovery organization has been looking to return to downtown Brattleboro after a few years in an office off Putney Road. Lately, administrators have focused on an Elm Street property.
"The property we had been looking at since March had gone through the foreclosure process. It just took awhile until it was officially on the market," said Suzie Walker, Turning Point executive director.
Inquiries with a local bank led to contact with the USDA, and "it turned out that we would fit into their Rural Development program," Walker said. "That was just Monday, actually."
There was supposed to be a site visit with federal representatives Wednesday.
"Then, boom, the shutdown came," Walker said. "It brought us to a standstill."
She is confident that Turning Point can and will work with the USDA when the shutdown ends -- assuming no one else buys the property in the meantime.
For now, Walker sums up the situation with this word: "Disappointing."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.