Federal sequester means deep cuts at Fort Drum, impact on regional economy
The federal government's across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester are set to kick in Friday, barring an agreement between Congress and the president. That means a big impact for defense spending, including for Fort Drum, an important regional economic driver.
A Pentagon spokesman put the financial hit at Fort Drum at $38 million. A portion of that will come out of civilian employee payrolls in the form of one-day-a-week furloughs through September, when the federal fiscal year ends.
A Fort Drum spokesman says the post is still in the planning process for how to implement the rest of the budget cut. The post employs about 4,600 civilian workers.
Democratic Cong. Bill Owens says Fort Drum's military mission will be minimally affected, because of the post's continued deployments to Afghanistan.
“The Army has made it very clear in meetings I've had with senior officers that those divisions that are being deployed, they will receive what they need in order to have the troops do the mission, and train for the mission,” he said.
Owens says he thinks the sequester cuts may be short-lived.
“My belief is that people will react adversely to this, and put pressure on their members of Congress to solve the problem,” Owens said.
Carl McLaughlin heads up the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, a community group based in Watertown that advocates for Fort Drum and creates a link between the post and the surrounding community. He says the reduced payroll for civilian Fort Drum employees will reverberate throughout the north country's economy.
“That's money that's not going to find its way through the economy,” McLaughlin said. “When you talk about Fort Drum as the economic driver, you're really talking about people who earn a good living, and then use the money in the economy, and that supports other jobs and other folks.”
McLaughlin says civilian Fort Drum workers will have to forego meals out in restaurants, nights at the movies, and other extras to cope with the furloughs.
“People will honor their commitments – they'll pay their mortgages, pay their rent, they'll pay for the loan on their car and all those other necessities – but it will be the discretionary purchases, which really is a significant part of our economy,” he said.
Fort Drum contributed $1.6 billion to the regional economy in fiscal year 2011, according to the latest economic impact study. Payroll is the most significant portion of that, accounting for about 75 percent of the post's annual economic contribution.