Businesses nervously await furloughs at Ohio base

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DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- Up to 13,000 civilian employees at Ohio's largest military installation could face furloughs if defense spending cuts kick in as scheduled March 1 and that has business owners and public officials in surrounding communities worried about their bottom lines.

Scheduled cuts in defense spending -- part of the so-called sequester that's subject of a standoff between Democrats and Republicans in Washington -- could have a significant effect on the communities around Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress this week he may have to furlough civilian workers if the cuts aren't averted.

For Wright-Patterson, that could be as many as 13,000 civilian employees for 22 days beginning in April. Base officials said no determination has been made on whether the days would be consecutive or one day a week through the end of the fiscal year, but furloughs would amount to about a 20 percent pay cut. And officials and business owners in the neighboring cities of Fairborn and Riverside are worried about what it means for them.

"It makes me very nervous," Tony Spaziani, owner of Giovanni's Pizzeria e Ristorante Italiano in Fairborn, told the Dayton Daily News. "This is trickle-down disaster."

He said regular customers who work at the base have been telling him that they plan to bring their own meals rather than eat out if they are furloughed.

John Zavakos, owner of Tickets Pub & Eatery in Fairborn, says Wright-Patterson employees make up 75 percent of the lunch crowd at his business and "it's very huge."

Fairborn's economic development director said the impact will affect the whole region.

"The thing with our military base, it's a very large and well-integrated regional facility," development director Chris Wimsatt said. "It doesn't hurt one community. It hurts a lot of communities."

The Pentagon agrees, having projected that the automatic spending cuts this year could have a negative impact of $165 million on Ohio's economy.

The city of Riverside expects it may lose $60,000 in income tax revenue this year if the furloughs happen, but that number could change depending on which employees are impacted, Riverside City Manager Bryan Chodkowski said.

Retail businesses also are going to feel the effects of any furloughs, Chodkowski said.

Vicki Fox, manager of a costume store in Fairborn, said there is no question that downtown businesses there will feel the effects of any cuts.

"A lot of base employees and civilian contractors patronize the downtown establishments, whether its restaurants or stores like this one," Fox said. "It will just depend on how many employees are affected."

Defense officials have said that civilian employees could be notified of any pending furloughs by mid-March.

Panetta has said the furloughs would harm national security. He also has said that the Pentagon is still working with Congress to try to avert the cuts.