Building maintenance at Robins get some budget relief but not much

wcrenshaw@macon.comJanuary 19, 2014 

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- The 78th Civil Engineer Group at Robins, which maintains buildings and infrastructure around the base, is loosening its budget belt a notch or two, but that’s about it.

As a result of a $4 million cut to its budget, the unit last May announced some changes that indicated just how much the low-hanging fruit had been picked from the spending tree. Routine maintenance such as leaky faucets and minor potholes were going to the bottom of the priority list. Repairs basically would be limited to those related to safety or the ability to get the mission accomplished.

That policy is generally still in place, said Scott Hastings, director of the 78th Civil Engineering Squadron.

“We are still in the mode that our number one priority is emergencies only,” he said. “Something that affects life, health, safety or a mission-critical work stoppage.”

However, there is some relief in one area.

Part of the cuts also included eliminating preventative maintenance, such as replacing belts on air-conditioning units. While Hastings acknowledged the importance of preventative maintenance, he said the money just wasn’t in the budget to buy the parts needed to do it.

However, units across the base did a good job of belt-tightening last year, he said, and many had some money left over at the end of the year. Most are not allowed to reallocate that money, but the Civil Engineer Group is one of the few that can. So the money that other units saved is now being applied to resuming the preventative maintenance program.

Cuts announced last year also included the possibility of putting building thermostats at 80 degrees during the summer. Terry Landreth, the energy office supervisor, said they didn’t have to resort to that. During the winter, thermostats are at the Air Force prescribed 68 degrees.

A budget agreement recently approved by Congress and signed by the president may provide some additional relief from the cuts put in place last year but not just yet, Hastings said. He said the squadron will likely have more funds this year to do routine maintenance but still won’t be back to the point prior to sequestration.

Another factor, he said, is hiring restrictions. The unit currently has about 40 vacant positions that can’t be filled.

One thing that has been helping is some assistance from facility managers to help with minor repairs. Each building on base has a facility manager, which is someone who works in the building but takes on the title as an additional responsibility. Hastings said many of those people have been helping by taking care of minor repairs themselves.

While there have been some complaints, Hastings said in general most people at the base have been understanding.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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