HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Financially speaking, last year was a rough one for Hill Air Force Base, and 2011 might be even worse.
In a report to the Davis County Commission on Tuesday, Col. Patrick Higby, commander of the base's 75th Air Base Wing, said his wing's 2011 operating and maintenance budget has been slashed for the fourth consecutive year and is down more than 50 percent from what it was in 2008.
The air base wing provides operating support for essentially the entire base, including the Ogden Air Logistics Center, the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, 84th Combat Sustainment Wing, 309th Maintenance Wing, 526th ICBM Systems Wing, 508th Aircraft Sustainment Wing and 25 associate units.
According to Higby's report, the 75th's operating and maintenance budget, which doesn't include civilian pay, was just more than $80 million in 2008.
In 2009, it dropped, but only slightly, to just less than $80 million.
In 2010, it dropped significantly to about $60 million, and in 2011 it sits at just more than $40 million.
"There are some major challenges for both local and federal governments," Higby said. "We're all hurting for money. We're facing some very austere times."
Because of the budget shortfall, Higby said the base is trying to do more with less.
Higby said when planes come in for scheduled depot maintenance work, crews at Hill must now be more efficient than ever.
"One example is we are trying to get our aircraft back to the war fight faster, but also do it with no added cost," he said. "Business as usual is not an option in this environment."
With an aging fleet of fighter aircraft, Higby said, the Air Force is desperate to bring the new F-35 fighter jet aboard, but tough economic times continue to be a roadblock.
"In order to do that, we have to decrease the cost of maintaining our current fleet," Higby said. "Which can be like maintaining an old demolition derby car from the 1930s."
One move to reduce those maintenance costs was implemented at Hill during the past year. In July 2010, Hill's 34th Fighter Squadron, known as the "Rude Rams," was officially deactivated.
The closing came as a result of an Air Force-wide restructuring plan that called for the retirement of 259 aircraft.
Hill also lost 24 F-16s as part of the plan that officials say will save the Air Force $355 million in fiscal year 2010 and $3.5 billion over the next five fiscal years.
"That was done as a way to save money, which in turn will go toward procuring the F-35s," Higby said.
Higby also said base airmen must fulfill longer and more frequent deployments.
Hill currently has 749 personnel deployed in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recently, fighter squadrons would deploy for four months, then have 12 months off. Today, those same squadrons deploy for six months, followed by 12 months off.
For other units, like explosive ordnance disposal personnel, it's common to serve for six months, come home for another six months, then repeat the cycle.
"Deployment timelines are continuing to change, and we're constantly concerned about how to take care of our airmen," Higby said.
With a stretched budget and strained workforce, Higby said, Hill's future will depend on the ingenuity of its 24,000-strong work force.
"It's remarkable to me how many great ideas these 24,000 great Americans are coming up with," he said. "And I'm confident that will continue."