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Weather closings at base cost $6M in payroll

Wright-Patt officials says employees were able to work from home and risks were too high to have base open.

Two base closure days in one month cost Wright-Patterson more than $6 million in payroll because of severe winter weather, according to base figures.

Each day cost $3.3 million, or an estimated $2.1 million for civilian civil service employees and $1.2 million for military personnel, according to Daryl Mayer, a Wright-Patterson spokesman who provided the figures at the request of the Dayton Daily News.

Those costs do not include four delayed start times or an early departure the base ordered this winter, typically between two and three hours, which employees are paid for as part of an administrative leave, according to officials.

“It really all comes down to safety,” said base spokesman Daryl Mayer. “We face things that other organizations don’t.”

On Monday and Tuesday, schools, colleges and some businesses shutdown because of the bone-chilling temperatures that reached wind chills of minus 20 or below, but other government agencies and companies stayed open.

Wright-Patterson closed Monday for the second time since Dec. 6. Base essential employees, who number about 150 employees, such as hospital workers, snow plow drivers, firefighters and security forces, were to report for work.

Wright-Patt officials said paid snow days weren’t paid without anything in return since many employees worked remotely at their homes during the cold snap this week and avoided the potential of injury and workers compensation claims. Military and civil service employees were placed on paid administrative leave on a snow day or for delayed start times, according to Marie M. Vanover, base director of public affairs.

“The savings to personnel costs on a snow day are diverted costs from slips, trips and falls and multiple workman’s compensation claims,” she said in an email.

Work rules imposed during last year’s furloughs, six days of which were unpaid, barred employees from working outside of work time, Mayer said.

“When you’ve got a situation, unlike the (government) shutdown when we have a weather shutdown there’s a large number of our people that continue working from home,” Mayer said. “Certainly, not at the same pace when everyone is at work in their offices, but things do keep moving along.”

With more than 200 employees working on a weekday, Springfield Air National Guard Base has not closed this winter, said Col. Greg Schnulo, commander of the 178th Fighter Wing. But about 20 employees at the base deemed non-essential because of their job functions mirror what Wright-Patterson does during inclement weather reporting procedures, he said.

Wright-Patterson leaders made the call Sunday to close Monday, but had expected more snow, Mayer said.

Among other winter hazards, security personnel stand outside during rush hours in lanes of traffic checking identification cards and snow removal crews need to time to plow roads, parking lots and clear sidewalks, he said.

Mayer added the commute employees face and the task surrounding communities must tackle to clear roads around the base were among the factors weighed when a closure or delayed start time is declared.

“When we’re open it puts a big workload on the surrounding communities as well,” he said.

Last year, Wright-Patterson closed once and had “a couple of delays” because of the weather, according to Vanover. In 2009, the military installation closed because of an ice storm. Information on other years wasn’t available Wednesday, she said in an email.

Scott Air Force Base, Ill., which received 11 inches of snow in this weekend’s storm, also closed Monday, but mission essential personnel reported for duty, said Scott spokeswoman Karen Petitt.

“It was very blizzard-y and very cold,” she said. All employees were expected to report at normal work times on Tuesday, she said. Wright-Patterson had a three-hour work delay that day, according to a base website.

Scott has about 13,000 employees, or roughly less than half the number Wright-Patterson employs.

Some bases facing Arctic weather, such as Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, remained open, but had a two-hour delay in start time for some units, said Minot base spokesman 1st Lt. Jose R. Davis. Vanover said Wright-Patterson and Minot are “two very distinct bases” with different missions, populace and weather patterns. Minot, home to B-52 bombers close to the northern border of the contiguous United States, is more accustomed and better equipped to handle bitter winter cold and snow, she indicated.

“Wright-Patterson is in an area that is not accustomed to the severe weather we have been experiencing and the base does not have all of the required equipment and gear for our personnel to work in these types of frigid conditions,” she said in an email.

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