Federal cuts will mean big dip in plane repairs at Robins

wcrenshaw@macon.comMarch 6, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Robins Air Force Base will have 28 fewer planes coming in for overhaul in the next seven months as a result of automatic federal spending cuts.

At a community update Wednesday that drew more than 300 people, Brig. Gen. Cedric George said Robins had been scheduled to overhaul 177 planes during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. With the cuts that kicked in March 1, known as sequestration, the base is set to get in 149.

That reduction should about balance out with the 22 days of furlough that the cuts would bring for the approximately 15,000 civilian workers on base, said George, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex. About 8,000 civilians work in the complex, which does the overhaul maintenance.

That means there won’t be a need for additional furloughs or layoffs within the complex to match up the work force with workload, he said.

The reduction in airplanes will mean about 1 million fewer man-hours out of 7.4 million that had been planned for the year.

The complex does maintenance on the F-15, C-5, C-130 and C-17. George said the reductions would affect all four areas, but it’s uncertain exactly how that would be spread out.

Uncertainty, in fact, might have been the word of the day at the meeting, which was held in the Houston Lake Stadium Cinema 12 movie theater. The 298-seat theater was full, with a couple of dozen people standing along the walls.

Col. Mitchel Butikofer, commander of the 78th Air Base Wing and the installation commander, said it’s still uncertain whether the furlough days can be taken consecutively, which would allow for unemployment benefits. The furloughs are set to start April 25.

“We told our employees a month ago you need to start preparing personally to get your financial house in order so you and your family can deal with this reduction in income,” he said.

Other speakers, including several top commanders at the base, said they aren’t sure exactly how the cuts will have to be implemented. They are holding out hope they will be given some discretion in how to make the cuts rather than the across-the-board method called for in legislation that created the automatic cuts.

The base is estimating a potential negative economic impact of about $150 million, which includes pay loss from the furloughs and reduction in local jobs created.

The presentation was organized by the 21st Century Partnership, a community organization that works to support the base. Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, president of the partnership, said the purpose of the meeting was not to create “an aura of hysteria” but to inform the community of the potential impact.

“Each of you and I have been handed lemons,” said McMahon, former commander of what was then called the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. “I am confident that working together, we can make the best damn batch of lemonade you’ve ever seen.”

Houston County school Superintendent Robin Hines said the system gets about $16 million in federal funding that will be cut as a result of sequestration, although he said he still isn’t sure what the percentage of that cut will be. Also uncertain is what will become of about $2 million in impact funds the system gets from the Department of Defense to offset the cost of educating children of military members. Those funds are given because the base does not pay property taxes. Hines said there is talk that may be cut entirely, but he hasn’t heard for sure.

“I certainly don’t know all the answers, but I do know our school system will be adversely impacted by this,” he said.

The school system has been preparing for the impact for almost a year by such actions as freezing positions that are federally funded. Because of that, Hines does not expect the system will need to furlough any of its 4,000 employees.

McMahon pointed out the cuts won’t just affect defense employees but potentially other federal employees, ranging from postal workers to Social Security workers.

The 21st Century Partnership, therefore, is calling on all area businesses, starting in April, to recognize every Thursday as Federal Employee Appreciation Day and give discounts or special offers for all federal employees to show support.

“Each and every one of our federal employees in Middle Georgia may be impacted by what is about to occur,” McMahon said. “One of the things we can do as a community is publicly show them how much they mean to us.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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