Servicemembers living off base in Japan can dig out old receipts, grab a calculator and help set how much they’ll be paid in the future for bottled water, electricity and other off-base housing bills.

During January, the Per Diem Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee — which sets rates such as the overseas housing allowance and cost of living allowance — is asking servicemembers to complete an online survey of their utility and housing costs.

“It’s kind of like voting,” said Lt. Col. Loren Darmofal, financial management officer for U.S. Forces Japan. “This is everyone’s chance to tell the Per Diem Committee: ‘This is how much it costs me to live off base in Japan.’”

The “2006 Overseas Housing Allowance Utility and Move-In Expenses Survey” is estimated to take about half an hour. It will ask the average cost of monthly bills for housing expenses such as electricity, water — including bottled water purchased for drinking — and heating fuels.

It doesn’t cover cable or telephone services, auto expenses, pets or other non-housing costs.

Darmofal said it is important not to confuse the survey with one done for cost-of-living allowance, which includes food and other items. All servicemembers are eligible for COLA, while OHA applies only to servicemembers living off base.

It’s similar to the stateside version called basic allowance for housing, which this year increased by an average of 5.9 percent, according to the Defense Department.

The overseas survey, last conducted in January 2004, is open only to active-duty personnel and their families who live off base. It can be completed Jan. 2-30.

The survey can be completed over several days, but from only one computer.

The survey asks for average costs, so servicemembers should have their last year’s bills accessible to account for seasonal cost fluctuations. Those who arrived within the past year should average whatever bills they have, Darmofal said.

The OHA isn’t as significant as COLA, since it affects only those living off base.

In early 2005, servicemembers completed a COLA survey that asked them the types of items they generally buy and where they buy them: on or off base. In April, a committee from each installation will use those results to perform a retail price survey, which checks if prices have changed in the area. Servicemembers don’t need to do anything for that survey, Darmofal said. Their COLA will then be adjusted according to the retail price survey results.

The overseas housing allowance survey’s purpose is to gauge prices, he added, so the goal this time around is “for as many people as possible to complete the survey and to do it as accurately as possible.”

Survey results are expected to come out later this year.

Overseas housing allowance survey

Servicemembers in Japan are invited to complete a cost survey this month that will help set overseas housing allowance rates in the future.

The “2006 Overseas Housing Allowance Utility and Move-In Expenses Survey” runs Jan. 2-30. It is completed online and should take about half an hour.

The survey is for active-duty servicemembers living off base. Servicemembers should provide an average of their monthly costs over a year, so have bills handy. Note amounts paid in the currency used to pay them.

The survey can be completed at different times during the course of the month, but must be completed by using the same computer.

Housing expenses include: electricity, heating fuels, water for residence, bottled water for drinking, trash pickup, sewer charges, maintenance and minor repairs (for example, replacement of window pane, repair of electrical outlet), insurance required by custom or law, condo fees, police protection, guards and taxes for which the tenant is responsible and must make a separately identifiable payment.Expenses not included: cable TV, tuition, monthly telephone bills, auto gasoline/diesel fuel, auto expenses, books, pet expenses, postage, road taxes, gifts, repairs to personally owned electrical equipment, maid service or yard maintenance.To complete the survey, click here.

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