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MacDill, local businesses adjust to shutdown

TAMPA — The MacDill Air Force Base commissary is closed, but its fitness center and medical clinic are open. Dining facilities are serving meals and the chapel is open — troops, after all, still have to eat and pray.

But about 1,500 of MacDill's 4,000 civilian employees were sent home Tuesday on furlough as the federal government shutdown commenced, base officials say.

Those in jobs deemed critical to security and troop support are still working and getting paid, as are active-duty troops.

The commander of MacDill's host unit, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, plans on reaching out to local banks to talk about getting financial aid to civilian employees most in need, said Tampa lawyer Rhea Law, chairwoman of the wing's Command Advisory Council.

But details were unavailable late Tuesday. Commander Scott DeThomas declined to comment but has scheduled a news conference this morning.

MacDill officials also have not indicated if additional employees will be furloughed.

For some of the civilians losing a paycheck this week, it was a second blow: They had already lost eight days' pay earlier this year after the Pentagon implemented sequestration budget cuts.

"It's just a crisis for these folks because they already been in such uncertainty having just gone through furloughs and now all sudden it's happening again," Law said. "They've already suffered a financial hardship."

The 2,500 civilians who are still working at MacDill have jobs "essential to safety of human life and protection of property," a base spokesperson said. MacDill officials say they also will be paid in a timely manner.

It appears that at least some of MacDill's aircraft are still flying. The base declined to say, but one of MacDill's 16 KC-135 aerial refueling jets rose from a base runway and flew over South Tampa Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, both based at MacDill, also are furloughing civilian employees. Officials at the 6th Air Mobility Wing said the 1,500 civilians furloughed across the base include those two commands.

With so many civilians losing pay, the owners and employees of small businesses sprinkled around the base are worried about a financial hit if the shutdown lasts more than a few days.

"We're in the luxury market," said Jeffrey Thomas, co-owner of Awesome Jewelry north of MacDill's main gate. "We're not food. We're not heating. All that stuff will be taken care of first."

It's a common refrain up and down Dale Mabry Highway in mom-and-pop shops and restaurants where defense contractors and civilians talk shop over a slice of pizza or cup of coffee.

Jack Caramello, owner of Slice Pizzeria & Wing House on S Dale Mabry, said 90 percent of his lunch traffic is from MacDill. He wasn't sure if it was just a coincidence, but he hadn't seen any civilian MacDill employees during the first day of the shutdown.

He noted that for at least some of the civilians, the impact of the shutdown may not be too severe. Many civilians are retired military personnel who may already be getting a pension, he said.

"I think the shutdown will be less than a week before somebody blinks," Caramello said. "Somebody's got to blink, right?"

Lincoln Tactical is the gun shop closest to the base. Owner Ryan Thomas said he is not worried about the shutdown's impact on his business. His is something of a recession-proof line of work.

"Guns are always strong," he said. "It doesn't matter if people have money, don't have money. People will still buy firearms. That's just the way it is."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

MacDill, local businesses adjust to shutdown 10/01/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 8:12am]
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