BY TOM BUSSELBERG
LAYTON — Less money could be flowing to Hill AFB to fund its immense mission, which includes tasks from maintaining F-16s to software development and computer systems.
Civilian employees make up the vast majority of the 24,000 people who work there.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta emphasized in a Dec. 28 memo that there is no threat of a government shutdown or cuts have not been proposed that would diminish military strength.
Up to an 8 percent cut in defense spending could still kick in within a couple of months. That’s because Congress didn’t tackle that issue, or many others, in its fiscal cliff haggling, which finally ended in Congress’s approving a bill on Tuesday.
There were positives to the tax and spending bill, Rep. Rob Bishop said, but inaction on defense was not one of them.
“They just kicked it down the road for two months and I have no confidence the administration or Senate are serious about coming back and really solving this military funding problem,” he said following Tuesday’s vote.
Impacts on the base would steamroll throughout Davis and Weber counties, and beyond, said Layton Mayor Steve Curtis.
“The economies of northern Utah are supported by wages and defense spending at the base,” he said. “We can rest assured that Hill will be required to take its fair share of cuts.”
Such action would translate into fewer jobs and fewer military contracts and would trim the amount of money going to local businesses.
The base is Utah’s largest single-site employer. There are about 23,000 military and civilian jobs at the base, and employees come from Davis County and beyond.
Davis County’s economy has diversified over the years and continues to do so, Curtis said, but Hill AFB is still the largest single-site employer, by far, in the state.
No formal meetings have been held among local officials about the immediate impact changes to the tax code and defense spending would have, Curtis said.
“At COG (Council of Governments) and meetings like that we talk about what the effects of losing jobs at Hill or of losing contracts” would be. “We’ve talked about it in detail,” the mayor said.
Curtis praised the announcement of Col.* Kathryn L. Kolbe’s promotion from vice-commander to commander of the 75th Air Base at Hill.
“Gen. Kolbe is very well acquainted with all of the operations of the base and with the surrounding communities. We’re all a team,” he said.
County government also weighed in on the issue.
“We feel Hill AFB is not only important to Davis County but it’s important to the USA” and the world, County Commission Chair John Petroff said. “It’s so important to safety in the world,” because a large percentage of this planet’s population depends on the U.S. to maintain a strong defense globally, the former West Point mayor said.
“Taking care of that base is the responsibility of the federal government, but also here in the county we want to make sure we do everything we can to help them succeed, to support their mission.”
The base pumps an estimated $1 billion into the state’s economy per year, a study commissioned by Davis County and conducted by the University of Utah said.
Local purchases of goods and services was pegged at more than $150 million per year.
When Hill AFB was demoted in status last year and made an air logistics complex,* about 250 jobs were lost.
“Now, what looms on the horizon, no one knows,” Curtis said. “We just really need to act together” to support the base and its various missions, he added.
“Today’s economy is all about jobs. This (possible 8 percent cut or sequestration) is going to work against that,” said Davis County Community & Economic Development Director Kent Sulser.
*This article has been amended to reflect the correct rank for Col. Kathryn L. Kolbe and the correct name of the air logistics complex.