Budget cuts are expected at Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East, but the extent of them is not yet known, base officials said in New Bern.
While acknowledging it’s unclear whether the cuts will be as severe as a possible 22 weeks of furloughs — equal to a 20 percent pay cut — for the base’s nearly 5,000 civilian workers, Cherry Point officials say they are preparing for whatever may come.
Col. Philip Zimmerman, base commander for Cherry Point, and Mary Beth Fennell, production team director for FRC East and its 3,107 employees, spoke to the New Bern Area Chamber’s Military Alliance members Wednesday just as Defense Department officials in Washington were outlining a cost-cutting plan that would be put in place if sequestration is triggered March 1.
That plan would result in one unpaid day off for civilian workers per week for 22 weeks.
Cherry Point has an annual economic impact of $2.1 billion on the area.
Zimmerman, who is in his fourth year as commander at Cherry Point, said he already knows the base will have $800,000 less in its baseline budget next fiscal year, but added, “I don’t know what sequestration will bring. I have received no guidance on that.”
For her part, Fennell said her team has been dividing its focus between the effects of the budget crisis and the workload of warplane and drone repairs, which workers have to get out the door.
They have not been formally advised a furlough will be implemented, she said.
“The Navy has been very forthcoming about the potential for furloughs — very good, almost information overload,” she said. “Employees were notified to begin planning in case that does come.”
She said FRC East and similar Navy repair facilities in Jacksonville, Fla., and North Island, Calif., operate like a business.
“We come up with a dollar quote, negotiate, contract, and then get the money upfront,” she said. “Everything we have in house today has been funded and we have the money to pay for the work.”
They were advised in January to conserve resources, put a freeze on hiring and “do not contract or purchase anything unless it is mission essential,” Fennell said. “Every purchase has to go to headquarters for approval.”
She said the cuts are not a reflection on FRC East employees or the workload.
“The house is full, there is lots of work and people wanting to do it,” she said.
She did say unanticipated repair service inside or outside the facility has stopped.
“The Navy doesn’t have that money, so that work has stopped until April 1,” she said.
Kevin Roberts, director of the New Bern Chamber of Commerce, said all businesses would feel the impacts of furloughs.
“It’s going to hurt all of us,” he said. “Our elected officials are out on recess and this is going to hit home.”
Bill Naumann, co-chairman of the chamber’s Military Alliance, said base workers would make priorities
“Those employees are going to pay their mortgages and car payments,” he said. “That 20 percent is money that won’t be spent at area restaurants and retail businesses.”
Zimmerman told the group that money was available for construction, including a plan to relocate the base armory in anticipation of the Slocum Road-U.S. 70 flyover interchange as well as an aircraft support facility.
“I just checked with Headquarters Marine Corps and don’t think they are going to be a problem,” he said.
He said there was $52 million in other facility restorations and modernization projects and for energy improvements in the current budget, with $22 million of the contracts to be awarded as soon as possible.
“I think fiscal year 2013 is about the same,” he said.
Both Zimmerman and Fennell reported on the details of a good year at the base and positive plans for the future at Cherry Point, presently clouded by the unresolved budget crisis.