A month after partisan stalemate set off the federal funding “sequester,” Palm Beach County residents are seeing the impact in deep cuts to local services:
- County commissioners Tuesday cut a series of federally supported community service programs that feed impoverished seniors and bus children to Head Start centers. The sequester cuts $1.9 million in grants for those programs, leaving seniors without breakfast, poor children without rides and bus drivers without jobs.
- The Boca Raton Airport Authority on Wednesday voted to sue the Federal Aviation Administration in an admittedly unlikely effort to retain air traffic controllers for the facility’s tower, which guides more than 50,000 flights a year. Pilots coming into the airport will be on their own.
- Cuts to another program mean that more than 900 households that rely on federal help with utility bills will be left in the cold.
“It is a shame that they would even mandate doing something like this,” Richard Poulette, president of Communications Workers of America Local 3181, the county’s blue collar union, told county commissioners Tuesday. “This is not something that should be looked at lightly.”
With little discussion, the commission voted 5-2 to cut funding for a series of social service programs. Commissioners Shelley Vana and Priscilla Taylor voted against the cuts.
Head Start buses will stop operating on June 6, when 14 bus driver and bus aide positions are eliminated. Roughly 400 of the 2,296 children in the program use the buses, county administrators said.
County officials said the move would prevent them from having to reduce enrollment or limit the amount of time that children spend in Head Start classes.
But Poulette told commissioners the decision would leave bus drivers and aides little time to find other jobs.
“That is my number one concern here,” Poulette said. “I don’t think anything should happen like this.”
The federal cuts will also force county officials to stop delivering breakfast to the homes of 136 senior citizens who are unable to prepare their own meals and don’t have anyone else to do it for them. In addition, breakfast will no longer be served at the county’s three senior centers. An average of 106 seniors eat at the sites daily, county officials said.
Cutting breakfast will save about $88,000, but all seniors will still be eligible to receive at least one meal a day, the county said.
County officials said they will also be forced to cut $320,000 from a program that helps low-income families pay their electric bills. As a result, 915 households will no longer receive assistance.
Meanwhile, south county leaders have warned the federal plan to close the air traffic control tower at the Boca Raton Airport could have far-reaching impacts on the local economy. They point to corporations that have headquarters in the county’s south end. Corporate leaders will hesitate to fly into an airport without a control tower, the officials say.
The tower is scheduled to close on May 5.
In a last-ditch effort, the airport’s governing board on Wednesday voted unanimously to file the suit, a move they hoped would delay the closure. Attorney Dawn Meyers, who represents the airport, warned the governing board that effort was likely a long shot.
“My legal opinion is there is little chance of permanent success and there is limited chance of temporary success,” Meyers said. “Right now, you have no chance.”
In case the effort fails, airport officials said they are also looking at other ways to pay for the tower’s operation. They estimate it would roughly $650,000 a year for the airport authority to run the facility without federal funding.
“It is the goal of airport management to have our tower stay open continuously,” Assistant Airport Manager Paul McDermott said.
Boca’s tower opened in 2000, five months after four people died when two planes collided over suburban Boca Raton. Some area residents blamed the collision on the absence of a tower.