Federal cuts to cost Arlington $3 million within a year

Posted Friday, Mar. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Mayor Robert Cluck joined a chorus of city officials across Texas in saying that federal sequestration will 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 members of Congress about the ramifications of the sweeping federal budget cuts, told MSNBC's The Daily Rundown on Wednesday that Arlington faces the closure of the municipal airport's control tower and cuts to 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 severely affected by job cuts, standing to lose almost 99,000 defense jobs and 60,500 nondefense jobs, according to a report prepared by the Texas House in January. The first of $85 billion in cuts to federal programs could begin today.

During the MSNBC interview, Cluck said he is not willing to accept any federal cuts that would harm Arlington.

But he said he is not interested in raising the city's property tax rate -- the same for a decade -- to make up for the lost funding.

"Our budget is tight," 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 in all its federally funded programs, city spokeswoman Rebecca Rodriguez said. 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 sequester, the Arlington Municipal Airport's control tower could 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, airport Manager Karen VanWinkle said.

The airport would continue operating, but pilots would no longer get help from the sophisticated traffic management system that's been available to them since the grant-funded 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 is one of 189 control towers operated by the FAA nationwide that face closure. VanWinkle said she expects the reliever airport to lose business if it can't offer pilots controlled airspace.

"We have 20 businesses out here that depend on the runway," VanWinkle said. "The impact is going to be harsh."

She said the airport has about 700 employees.

Seeking compromise

The sequester could also affect up to 2,000 households in Dallas-Fort Worth that receive rental housing assistance, said David Zappasodi, executive director of the Arlington Housing Authority. Arlington has about 200 of those, he said.

The city and the housing authority would "do everything possible to lessen 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 called Section 8) are elderly or disabled, 48 percent are considered "working poor" and 4 percent have no income, he said.

The Texas Education Agency faces an estimated reduction of $517.6 million -- the most significant agency cut -- but officials with the Arlington school district didn't know Thursday what that could mean locally.

Higher education would also suffer.

The University of Texas System predicts that research funding would be reduced by $114 million to $123 million annually across all institutions.

Fort Worth Chief Financial Officer Horatio Porter said basic city services won't be affected because they 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 warns that the sequester will affect other city-related programs supported by federal funds, such as infrastructure projects, job training, public safety and transportation.

"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."

Online: nbcnews.to/WtWmKO

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

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

Twitter: @susanschrock

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