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Federal budget cuts will mean no Airfest, civilian furloughs at MacDill

The USAF Thunderbirds fly in a tight formation at Airfest in 2011. This year’s event could be canceled due to budget cuts.

Times files (2011)

The USAF Thunderbirds fly in a tight formation at Airfest in 2011. This year’s event could be canceled due to budget cuts.

TAMPA — With federal budget cuts looming, MacDill Air Force Base is bracing for the possibility of civilian employee furloughs and the cancellation of Airfest.

There are about 3,000 civilian employees at MacDill. Most of those workers could be affected, said Terry Montrose, a spokesman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill.

Congress has until Friday to reach an agreement to prevent the automatic cuts.

If a deal can't be reached, civilians would be forced to take an average of one unpaid day every week for up to 22 weeks, Montrose said. The furloughs would start April 25.

"This equates to a 20 percent cut in pay," Montrose said in an email. "We are deeply concerned about the negative effects of furloughs on the morale and effectiveness of our valued civilian workforce."

The fate of this year's Airfest is also in peril, Montrose said.

"The Air Force would cancel all participation in air shows, trade shows and flyovers, including the Thunderbirds," Montrose said. The Navy has also said it would cancel the Blue Angels, he added.

The annual festival, scheduled this year for April 6-7, draws an estimated 80,000 people.

The spending cuts, called sequester, would slash roughly $85 billion in federal spending this fiscal year. Cuts would take place nearly across the board, with half aimed at military and defense.

Two of the nation's combatant commands, U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, have headquarters at MacDill, in addition to the base's host unit, the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

"Civilians fix our planes, staff our hospitals, handle contracting and financial management, and much more," Montrose said.

About 900 civilians at SoCom could be affected, said Ken McGraw, deputy public affairs officer.

"Civilians are integrated into every staff section in USSOCOM headquarters and play a significant role in some functions like acquisition," McGraw said in an email.

Steve Jarrett, 55, is one of the civilians on base.

"I agree that the government needs to find ways to make cuts. But I don't agree that the civilian workforce needs to face the brunt of that cut," said Jarrett, deputy chief of the Logistics Plans Division supporting CentCom headquarters.

Some workers are already feeling the squeeze on their paychecks. Civilians at MacDill have been under a three-year pay freeze, Jarrett said. Furloughs would only further exacerbate those economic constraints, he said.

One clear indication of tightened budgets is the amount of people who now take mass transit to the base, Jarrett said. Though more buses are running more frequently, they're becoming standing room only because workers can't afford to pay the tolls or rising gas expenses.

For Jarrett, the furloughs equal a loss of almost $1,000 each pay period.

"So I've got to look at my bills and decide, do I dip into my savings?" he asked. "Do I quit doing some things that are costing me money? And if every civilian worker does that, the Tampa Bay economy is going to be hurting.

"Most of the people I've talked to, they've got kids in college, they've got car payments, they've got bills," he said. "Particularly the lower-grade people who live paycheck to paycheck. They're going to be most affected by this because they can't pay the bills."

The base will feel a share of the cuts, too, Montrose said.

"All services or facilities which employ civilian personnel will be affected to some degree," he said, "to include reduced services, longer wait times, and fewer personnel available to provide necessary services."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401.

Federal budget cuts will mean no Airfest, civilian furloughs at MacDill 02/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 11:44pm]
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