City leaders briefed on sequestration impacts
Stinson air traffic control tower will close, millions lost in federal grants
The city of San Antonio is bracing for the impact from federal sequestration.
City Council members learned at a briefing Wednesday how those automatic budget cuts will affect our city's budget.
One place that will feel the impact of those reductions soon is Stinson Airport.
Currently, Stinson has a contract with the FAA to provide one air traffic controller to man the tower and manage air traffic. Starting next month, that controller will be gone and it will be up to pilots to control the air space themselves.
"We're fortunate that we've had a contract tower program but safety will not be compromised," said Aviation Director Frank Miller. "It's just a different way of doing business."
Miller said pilots already fly in and out of Stinson without an air traffic controller in the tower from 10 p.m. To 7 a.m.
Instead, pilots use something called UNICOM, a universal communication system that allows pilots to let each other know where they are in the air and when they are landing or taking off.
Miller said several other General Aviation airports around the country use the UNICOM system instead of air traffic controllers and so did Stinson up until about 15 years ago.
In addition to closing the tower at Stinson, Miller said the cuts will also impact San Antonio International, mainly in the form of furloughs of federal employees.
So far, air traffic controllers are expected to face furloughs of one day every two weeks. Customs and Border Patrol employees will likely be off one day every week and TSA has yet to announce any furloughs.
Miller said those furloughs could result in longer delays for travelers. This could all be avoided if lawmakers come to an agreement to end these cuts.
"If they can get something resolved it may result in not having any impact as far as the furloughs or any other type of activities," Miller said.
If things stand as they are, the Stinson tower will be closed starting April 1. The furloughs at International would also likely start at the same time.
Several other city programs funded by federal grants could also lose millions thanks to sequestration.
The city gets roughly $150 million in federal grants every year. Budget Director Maria Villagomez said 16 grants, totaling $140 million could be affected, with much of that impact being felt next year.
Villagomez said the cuts are already being felt by local kids and their families applying for early child care.
The Head Start program is one of the largest grants to face reductions, starting with nearly $1.7 million in cuts this year. On Friday, the city was told to "freeze all new registrations" for the program.
If lawmakers in Washington can't come to an agreement, the real impact of these cuts would be felt next year, with an estimated reduction in federal grants totaling between $7 and $11 million dollars.
Villagomez said city staff are trying to find ways to plug those funding holes with local money next year.
"We're actually beginning our process for our Fiscal year 2014 budget," Villagomez said. "So that is something that we would have to take into account as we develop recommendations to the council."
For a list of recent stories Tim Gerber has done, click here.
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