By Donna Cipolloni, NAS Patuxent River Public Affairs
Customers using various Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities aboard NAS Patuxent River and NRC Solomons will experience some necessary changes in order to assure ongoing quality of services continue for years to come. Customers will likely see some reduction in hours and/or an increase in prices for a number of MWR activities — a result of financial restrictions that impact services at region and installation levels.
“Throughout the Navy enterprise, we’re struggling for fiscal support and that includes the MWR program around the world, not just here at Pax,” explained Jeff Sias, N9 director for Pax River. “We don’t have the money we used to have even just a few years ago. This is about having to stay up with inflationary costs incrementally and doing it smartly; it’s not to make a profit.
MWR operations fall into one of three categories: Category A “mission essential,” such as the Drill Hall fitness center, is primarily funded by tax dollars (appropriated funding); Category B “nice to have,” such as the bowling center, is a mix of appropriated funding and monies generated by the center through customer participation fees; and Category C “self-sustaining,” such as the River’s Edge Catering and Conference Center, is ineligible for any type of support and funding comes only from revenue generated by the facility via the prices paid for its goods and services.
None of MWR’s operations are allowed to make a true profit and operate under the business rules to break-even or not lose money.
“We are expected to operate our Category C activities like a true business would outside the gate, but where we differ is that we’re not required to generate the large profit margins of a civilian company,” said Doug Arnett, MWR director. “In this category, we have to maintain revenues at least 5 percent above break-even margin, which is very small, to put back into programming and activities. When we change our prices or adjust our services, it may be perceived by the customer that we’re trying to make more, but in most cases, we’re just trying to generate enough to pay for what we do.”
Increased fees are not the only solution. MWR looked carefully at all of its operations and asked its managers to identify areas where they could find financial and performance improvement; and facilities utilization played an important role in that evaluation.
“Fortunately, we keep very good statistics on customer usage of our facilities and services, so we were able to see where we don’t get much participation at certain times of day,” Arnett noted. “If we can close up at those times, we save salary money; and salary is the most expensive component, no matter what type of business you’re in.”
In fact, by not backfilling some vacant positions in certain operations, MWR will be able to save a significant amount of money.
“The vast majority of our staff salaries are non-appropriated funds, which means salaries are paid through fees and charges; we don’t hire many GS personnel,” Sias clarified.
Utilities are another big expense for MWR, especially at Pax River’s West Basin Marina where the organization has been absorbing the $25,000 per year cost.
“We’ve been carrying the burden for a long time paying for marina utilities out of slip fees and we can’t do it anymore,” noted Frank Pace, recreation division manager. “In order to keep services at a quality level, utility fees will be implemented in April. But even with that, we can honestly say our customers will still see a 25-30 percent savings at Pax over the outside community.”
In addition to adjusting fee structures, reducing and aligning hours and services, saving on salaries, and working internally to reduce supply costs and maintenance expenses, certain MWR activities will begin promoting bundle packages to patrons and will increase marketing opportunities to help generate additional income.
“A lot of effort went into looking at how we can save money but still continue to maintain the level of programming and services we currently provide,” Sias added. “We have to raise prices so that we don’t lose these benefits, because if things go away, they’ll likely never come back. When we’re subsidized, we pass that along but, unfortunately, when we’re no longer subsidized, we also pass that along. Hopefully, people will understand how MWR works and how we’re responsible for our financial situation.”
Expected MWR changes
Below are some — but not all inclusive — MWR changes customers can expect to see at Pax River beginning on or after April 1. MWR will continue to look at all operations and make necessary adjustments in order to sustain service.
- Dine On the Go
Reduce operation hours to lunch only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; weekdays only
- River’s Edge
Hot Buffet and Soup & Salad Bar price increase by 95 cents; a la carte menu increase of 25 cents for some items; iced tea, soda and coffee prices increase by 25 cents.
- Drill Hall Fitness Center
Fitness center, gym and pool will close at 8 p.m.
- Bowling Center
Reduce hours of operation: Closing 5 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Mondays, and midnight Fridays
- Center Stage Theater
Ticket prices increase by 10 percent; begin charging for theater space usage
- West Basin Marina
Increase slip and dry storage fees by $1 per foot; sail boat rental fees by 10 percent; property storage fees by 10 percent; campsite fees by 10 percent; begin charging for electricity at boat slips
- Auto Skills Center
Increase vehicle storage by 10 percent
- Community Recreation
Increase in equipment rental and pavilion fees by 10 percent; eliminate tier pricing for E1-E5
- Liberty Center
Reduce staffing on weekends
- NRC Solomons
Special event fees increase $2 per person; reduce hours of operation in certain seasons; increase price of swim lessons; introduce bundle package to seasonal marina berthing patrons for both berthing and storage in the 20- and 30-foot slips; increase lodging rates $5 per night per CNIC guidance; reduce hours of lodging operation; reintroduce onsite storage to RV patrons; introduce seasonal storage contracts for RV guests