COLA rate changes will shrink paychecks for some in Germany
By CHARLIE COON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 29, 2005
STUTTGART, Germany — For years, servicemembers in Stuttgart have been receiving hundreds of dollars more per month in their cost-of-living allowance than their counterparts elsewhere in Germany.
That’s about to end.
In 2006, troops in Stuttgart will start receiving 36.8 percent less — totally hundreds of dollars — in COLA each month because of new rates announced Wednesday.
Troops in the Kaiserslautern, Wiesbaden, Heidelberg and Garmisch areas also will see big drops — 14.3 percent — in their COLA, while those in Grafenwöhr, Vilseck and Schweinfurt will get 9.1 percent increases. The decreases will be phased over a few months starting in January. The increases will take effect at the same time.
In Stuttgart, for example, that change will mean Spc. Rodney Fessler of the 52nd Signal Command, married and with four young children, will receive $370 less in his paycheck every month.
“My monthly check will probably go just for groceries and little things,” Fessler said. “There’s birthdays, Christmas, and three of [my kids] are in school. You’ve got to buy their snacks, their plates and cups. It’s more money we’ve got to shell out for that.
“It’s just not really going to work too well. We’re going to end up on food stamps or something.”
The adjustments, unveiled Wednesday, are partly based on a Living Pattern Survey performed in May and June of more than 12,000 troops with dependents. Single troops were not surveyed.
Most of the COLA adjustments were caused by rising prices in the States combined with a more fine-tuned survey of off-post spending habits in Europe, said Army Col. Karen Dyson, commander of the 266th Finance Command in Heidelberg.
The goal of COLA, she said, is to ensure that overseas troops have the same purchasing power as those living in the United States.
Troops in the Netherlands and in Vicenza, Italy, will not have their COLA changed, while those in Camp Darby, Italy, will see a 7.7 percent increase.
Stars and Stripes was unable to learn when troops in Spain, England and southern Italy will see their next COLA adjustment. The results for Belgium-based troops aren’t complete, Dyson said.
The big decrease in Stuttgart was a result of past cost-of-living surveys that showed prices in Stuttgart were much higher than elsewhere in Germany, Dyson said. The new surveys concluded prices there are pretty much the same as in the rest of Germany.
“In the past couple years, there were some questions on the data coming back from the [Stuttgart] pricing surveys,” Dyson said. “Some seemed a little high in comparison with other communities.”
For example, Dyson said, a DVD player bought on the Stuttgart economy was said to cost 899 euros, or up to 10 times more than the going rate for most DVD players available on base.
As a result of the inflated figures in Stuttgart, a staff sergeant with three dependents and six years service receives $1,003.83 in monthly COLA, while the same staff sergeant less than 100 miles away in Heidelberg gets $739.67. In Vilseck, the amount was $581.17. After the new COLAs are phased in, all would receive $634.
Reservists stationed in Europe, who receive a per diem allowance, will not be affected.
Dyson said the response to the Living Pattern Survey exceeded expectations and that the calculations were appropriate. She said they will help ensure that Europe-based troops won’t receive more — or less — COLA than they are entitled.
“There’s a lot of positive feeling about the credibility of the data results,” Dyson said.
Reaction from troops who will be getting less money was negative.
Cpl. Aldelzon Saldana, 27, a soldier with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital based at Miesau Army Depot in Germany, about nine miles from Ramstein Air Base, said it was frustrating to see the allowance fluctuate so much.
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Saldana, who has been stationed in the Kaiserslautern area the last two years and has three children. “The majority of people living here go off base [to shop].”
Fessler, the father of four, who is scheduled to be stationed in Stuttgart through November 2006, wondered if something could be done to soften the blow. He suggested applying the 36.8 percent decrease in Stuttgart only to newcomers to the community.
“People for years have been getting X amount of dollars, and suddenly it’s ripped away from them,” he said. “For people who have been getting this certain amount of pay for a certain length of time, it’s pretty scary.”