Fort McCoy civilian workers prepare for forced furlough days

Published On: Feb 27 2013 06:24:29 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 27 2013 06:49:08 PM CST
TOMAH, Wis. -- -

A series of budget cuts will automatically go into effect if Congress doesn't act by Friday.

It includes a $46 billion cut to the defense budget.

The impact will be seen in the Coulee Region as about 1,500 Fort McCoy civilian employees would be forced to take a furlough day once a week until September.

While it will take a toll on the employees' wallets, local businesses will also take a hit.

"We depend on Fort McCoy. We get a lot of business from there," said Jason Boris, owner of Jake's Northwoods in Sparta.

Located just a few miles from Fort McCoy, Boris is trying to prepare for the impact of a 20 percent cut in those 1,500 Fort McCoy employees' paychecks for nearly six months.

"We planned a little bit of reduction in food but we're still busy. The biggest thing we see is people are scared. They're going to be tightening up their belts a little bit," said Boris.

"There's a lot of unknowns and, again, a lot of uncertainty," said Fort McCoy public-affairs officer Linda Fournier.

Fournier says some of the employees who could be affected are already preparing.

"They are looking and going, 'OK, if I'm going to have less money coming up in April, if this happens maybe I'm going to make decisions today to help better my position,'" said Fournier.

While some of those decisions will help the employees make do with less take-home pay, it may have a negative trickle-down effect on businesses.

"I think the discretionary income where you go out and go to the restaurants, go to movie theaters, you need to go out and buy a new pair of shoes. Those things will have to be on hold for a while because you have to pay the mortgage," said Chris Hanson, director of the Tomah Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"People have tight paychecks and tight wallets right now and any impact like that is going to affect how they live their day-to-day lives and they're going to cut back," said Todd Fahning, Sparta community development director.

They're cutbacks that Boris worries won't take long for his business to feel.

"The workers that live in Sparta and Tomah are going out to eat. They have families. They're going to the grocery store, buying gas, all of those things. Those are the things that impact us as local businesses and those are the things that hurt us the most," said Boris.

If the budget cuts kick in, employees would not have to start taking furlough days until the end of April.

The furloughs would account for only $4 billion of the $46 billion the Department of Defense needs to cut.