Port City mostly unfazed by government shutdown

By Erich Wagner (File Photo)

While the federal shutdown dominates headlines across the country, city officials said that Alexandria is largely unaffected — at least for now.

City spokesman Tony Castrilli said in a statement that there are no immediate service changes stemming from the shutdown, which began earlier this week because Congress was unable to pass a new fiscal year budget. But a few DASH bus lines — the AT3 and AT4 lines to the Pentagon and the AT2X line to Mark Center — are on temporarily reduced midday schedules.

Sandra Fowler, spokeswoman for the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which gets substantial support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said her agency likely will have enough cash to ride out budget instability until at least the end of this month. After that, though, furloughs become a very real possibility.

“What HUD said to us is that housing authorities should not be affected, at least not immediately,” Fowler said. “We’re good; we’re good until the end of October.”

The Port City’s most prominent outpost of the federal government, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, announced that it also has enough funding to weather a shutdown in the short term.

“During the general government shutdown that began [Tuesday], the [U.S.] Patent and Trademark Office will remain open, using prior-year reserve fee collections to operate as usual for approximately four weeks,” officials wrote in a statement. “[Should] we exhaust these reserve funds before the general government shutdown comes to an end, USPTO would shut down at that time, although a very small staff would continue to work to accept new applications and maintain IT infrastructure, among other functions.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Monday that he planned to tap into reserve dollars to keep state services available to residents. But a protracted shutdown could force him to authorize state deficit spending as a last resort.

Castrilli was not immediately available to comment on how an extended dearth in federal spending might affect the city’s coffers.

Still, local businesses are less assured of their financial security. John Long, CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, said many business owners and consumers are in sort of a holding pattern because of the uncertainty.

“Folks are insecure, they’re questioning the confidence about what the business environment will look like,” Long said. “There’s a wait-and-see type of feeling, and when that happens, you hold back on big decisions like increasing staff or making major purchases.”

Long believes the furlough of federal workers could lead to an immediate hit to the bottom lines of local businesses. Government employees on unpaid vacation are less likely to venture south of the District, he said.

“It also puts holds on meetings and the possibility of folks coming into the community from D.C. for mini-retreats,” he said. “So those kinds of things are a concern.”

One local hotspot that saw an immediate effect was the popular Mount Vernon Trail, which runs along the Potomac. Since it’s located on National Park Service land, officials erected barriers along the trail as part of the shutdown.

But, according to multiple reports, cyclists either walked or rode around the concrete barricades and continued on their daily commute Tuesday.

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