The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Military gears up for cuts
Area military installations, such as the Dahlgren Navy base and Fort A.P. Hill, are no longer wondering about how they’ll be affected by sequestration.
Reductions in the wake of the automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts imposed March 1, are already grabbing hold, adding to expected furloughs of civilian workers beginning next month.
At the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren in King George County, grounds maintenance and custodial services are being scaled back; buildings’ winter heat will be turned off earlier this year and thermostats will be set at 80 degrees this summer to save on air-conditioning costs; children’s and youth programs and food services will be operating fewer hours, among other things, according to the Navy.
“Reductions in restroom cleaning frequency, elimination of desk-side [trash] pickup” and less floor cleaning are in the works, Capt. Ken Branch, regional engineer and commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington, said in a press release.
Outside, “Grounds maintenance will see larger changes,” with grass being cut less frequently, and some areas allowed to return to a natural state, he said.
Those measures will save about $1.2 million between the two installations.
The Facilities Engineering Command provides utilities, building and property maintenance functions for the Naval Support Activity South Potomac, the host command for the Dahlgren base and the Naval Support Facility Indian Head in southern Maryland.
Capt. Peter Nette, commander of the Naval Support Activity South Potomac, said that Navy-wide cost cutting began months ago in other areas.
“Like everyone else, we’ve curtailed travel and training and other administrative expenses, and we’re in a hiring freeze.”
Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs for service members and their families also will be cut back.
“At this time, we do not see an elimination of services, but rather a reduction,” Nette said.
For example, fitness centers on the bases will be reduced from 91.5 hours weekly to 86.5 hours a week. Dahlgren Library hours will be cut from 45 hours a week to 40.
The bases’ Liberty Centers, which provide recreational activities and outings for single service members, will be cut from 91 hours a week to 50 hours. Also, the Navy won’t be able to subsidize the costs of special events or trips.
Only special events covered by commercial sponsorship will be scheduled, though a planned summer teen employment program will go on as scheduled.
“We will do everything feasible, though not necessarily popular, to minimize impacts to our ability to provide for the overall support to include safety and security of our bases’ workforce and residents,” Nette said.
The sequester reductions are taking a toll outside the Dahlgren base.
Fitch Ratings, a New York company that rates localities’ financial standing, gave the county an A–plus bond rating this week.
“The only thing that kept the county from being upgraded to a higher category was the “looming talk of sequestration” on the Dahlgren base, the company wrote in an email to King George officials.
Fort A.P. Hill, the 76,000-acre Army training base in Caroline and Essex counties, is getting a clearer idea of what will be cut back, said Bob McElroy, the base spokesman.
For example, he said the hours that the firing ranges are open could be reduced.
“We’ve planned for life after furlough—should it transpire. It could result in a reduction of services we provide to the military units that train here, but we’re looking into ways to mitigate the impact,” he said.
And he said the fort has requested an exception to the furlough to keep its police and firefighters on duty, “but we’ve yet to get a decision on that.”
—Staff Reporter Cathy Dyson contributed to this story.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431