More budget cuts may hit Japan
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Funding cuts caused by the continuing need for money to sustain the war effort in Iraq stung the budgets for Sasebo facilities and services, but another reduction looms that could make that sting seem a minor irritation, base officials told community members at a town hall meeting Wednesday night.
Among changes already ordered and planned as a result of the Pentagon-ordered late-April budget cuts: Restricted official travel, possibly shrinking the base air conditioning season, shortened hours for recreation facilities and price hikes for Morale, Welfare and Recreation beverages, bowling and theater tickets.
Capt. Michael James, base commander, called the town hall meeting in the Community and Education Center. Those attending heard several department directors explain ways the cuts already have hindered the scope of their operations.
In late April, the Department of Defense took back an estimated $300 million from base budgets globally, including about $13.5 million from bases in Japan, explained Sasebo’s financial adviser, Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Darnell.
The small southern Japan naval base endured cuts of about $487,000, he added.
“The cuts at these bases were pretty even … anywhere from two to seven percent. In Sasebo the Department of Defense took back about $214,000 from the Bachelor Housing Department, $200,000 from MWR, $38,000 from the Fleet and Family Support Center and $32,000 from galley operations.”
As a result, among other measures, the base is restricting official travel to the most essential trips and has put all on-base contracting on hold; however, previously contracted efforts continue.
“Unfortunately, it looks like another financial mark is looming and it will be larger. Many programs could be cut down to the basics of their operating capability and part-time and temporary employees could be affected,” Darnell said.
Base officials disclosed no details of the expected next round of budget cuts but indicated they may come as soon as this fall.
Many stateside facilities endured far deeper cuts, James said. “It seems folks back in the States have realized the different environment and unique hardships and needs of living here,” he said. “So it’s not all gloom and doom — not yet, anyway. Overall we face small sacrifices. ... We have to keep that in perspective considering the sacrifices of others serving elsewhere.”
Lt. Brian Foster, public works officer, said his department is most concerned about utilities costs.
“Probably the easiest way to save in Sasebo is through energy conservation and controlling air conditioning. ... We don’t plan to start air-conditioning systems any later this year than normal, but if further cuts come our way, I hope we aren’t put in a position of turning it off before we would otherwise,” he said.
Officials normally turn on air-conditioning systems in the final week of May. Base policy states they can be set no lower than 76 degrees. “The less we are able to use, the better,” added Foster.
Morale, Welfare and Recreation director Scott Poluhowich said internal operating procedure adjustments immediately offset about a third of the cuts his department faced. The rest would be offset by adjusting the hours of specific facilities and measures such as increasing the prices for club beverages, bowling and theater tickets, he said.
“We are trying to minimize the impact because we realize the community utilizes a lot of our facilities, and we want to encourage them to continue using them,” Poluhowich said.
He mentioned that the project to install artificial turf on the field at Nimitz Park would proceed as planned.
“This will be same artificial turf used by the professional teams,” he said. “Our big dirt pile we call a field will then be green year-round.”
Chief Staff Officer Bernie Wang announced plans for a “major event we will hold on July 4, when we plan to have an open base and an open ship for visitors.
“This will also be the major fund-raising opportunity for community organizations.”