Arlington mayor warns of dire consequences from budget cuts

Posted Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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See Mayor Robert Cluck's interview on The Daily Rundown at video.msnbc.msn.com/the-daily-rundown/50989021/#50989021

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Mayor Robert Cluck joined the chorus of city officials across Texas in saying that federal sequestration is expected to have a significant impact on services including public housing, municipal airport operations, education and public safety.

Cluck, who was in Washington D.C. to talk with congress members about the ramifications of the sweeping federal budget cuts, told MSNBC's The Daily Rundown Wednesday that Arlington is facing closure of the municipal airport's traffic control tower and cuts to the Section 8 public housing for about 200 households.

"It will not be the first day but within a year we will have a $3 million hit to our budget," Cluck said. "That's a lot of money for a community."

Texas would be one of the most severely affected by job losses, standing to lose almost 99,000 defense jobs and 60,500 non-defense jobs, according to a report prepared by the Texas House of Representatives in January. The first of $85 billion in cuts to federal programs could begin Friday.

During the MSNBC interview, Cluck said he was not willing to accept any federal budget cuts that would negatively impact Arlington. But Cluck added he was not interested in raising the city's property tax rate, which has stayed the same the past decade, to make up for the lost funding either.

"Our budget is tight. Certainly it is," Cluck said. "We work very carefully with our budget to make sure we don't have a deficit ever."

Broad funding cuts

According to a city analysis, Arlington could see a 5.3 percent -- or $3 million -- reduction to all of its federally funded programs, said city spokeswoman Rebecca Rodriguez. Possible cuts include certain police equipment, such as bulletproof vests, police overtime for drug and human trafficking enforcement and funding for nonprofit agencies that serve the city.

As part of the federal sequester, the Arlington Municipal Airport's traffic control tower could also close April 1. The Federal Aviation Administration funds about seven traffic controllers and a manager to operate the tower from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The city does not have the funding to take over that operation itself, Airport Manager Karen VanWinkle said.

The municipal airport itself would continue operating but pilots will no longer have the assistance of the sophisticated traffic management system that's been available to them since the grant-funded control tower opened seven years ago.

"We will still have landings and departures but our traffic management system goes back to everyone watching out for everyone else," VanWinkle said.

Arlington's control tower is one of 189 traffic control towers operated by the FAA nationwide that face closure. VanWinkle said she expects the reliever airport will lose business without being able to offer pilots controlled airspace.

"We have 20 businesses out here that depend on the runway," said VanWinkle, saying an estimated 700 workers are employed at the airport. "The impact is going to be harsh."

Looking for compromise

The sequester could also affect as many as 2,000 households in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that receive rental housing assistance, said David Zappasodi, Arlington Housing Authority executive director. Arlington has about 200 of the potentially impacted households, Zappasodi said.

The city and the housing authority would "do everything possible to less the impact on its program participants" if federal assistance is slashed, Zappasodi said. About 48 percent of people in Arlington's Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly referred to as Section 8 rental housing assistance) are elderly or disabled, 48 percent are considered "working poor" and 4 percent have no income, he added.

"We are hopeful that the Congress will find a way to responsibly address the federal budget and avoid indiscriminate across-the-board funding cuts," Zappasodi said.

The Texas Education Agency's estimated reduction of $517.6 million is the most significant agency cut but officials with the Arlington Independent School District didn't know Thursday specifically what that could mean locally.

Higher education would also be affected. The University of Texas system predicts that research funding would be reduced between $114 million to $123 million annually across all institutions.

Fort Worth Chief Financial Officer Horatio Porter said basic city services in Fort Worth won't be impacted by sequestration because those services are funded by local dollars.

"We do receive some grants that augment some of our programs, but none that have an immediate (impact) on the services we provide to our citizens," he said.

The Texas Municipal League also warns the sequester will affect other city-related programs, such as infrastructure projects, job training, public safety and transportation, that are supported by federal funds.

"Compromise. That is all I'm asking for," Cluck said on MSNBC. "When they sit there and yell at each other and do nothing to solve the problem, that really bothers me. That bothers a lot of people."

- Staff writer Anna M. Tinsley contributed to this report, which contains material from the Houston Chronicle.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

Twitter: @susanschrock

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