January 27, 2013

Legislators take 'eye-opening' tour of aging armory

The tour of the Gardiner readiness center raises questions about conditions at similar facilities statewide.

By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Army National Guard Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond leads members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on a tour of the Gardiner Armory on Jan. 23.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

But part of the federal funding depends on matching funds from the state, Lagace said. About $65 million to $70 million of federal funding is tied directly to around $2 million in matching state funding through a cooperative agreement, mostly in operations and maintenance, he said.

If the state cuts part of that funding, the Maine National Guard will see an even larger cut in federal dollars. Gov. Paul LePage's curtailment order issued at the end of last year included a $76,000 cut from the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management and $10,000 from military training and operations.

Russell, who is serving her third year on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said the relationship that requires matching state money is why it's so important to preserve the funding for the Maine National Guard.

"Every time we cut back on those items, that's less and less our National Guard has to be ready for a disaster," she said.

Johnson, in his second year on the committee, said if extra funding can be found, he would advocate for it to be spent on improving the current facilities.

"I wish we had all the money we need to take care of these guys the way we should, but until we find some more money somewhere, everyone has to tighten up their belts a bit," he said.

Peter Rogers, spokesman for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, said the committee has been supportive of the National Guard, and the visit to the Gardiner armory was a good chance for them to take a closer look at the department.

"What we're looking for is to make sure we can provide the state match to continue to bring in all those federal funds," he said.

Rogers said the employees have done a great job of fixing aging facilities with few state funds for maintenance, but "you can only put a Band-Aid on so much."

FUTURE OF ARMORIES

The state funding of readiness centers depends on whether the facility is on state or federally owned or leased land, as well as its use, Drummond said.

The share of maintenance and operating expenses in state facilities such as the armory in Gardiner typically is split 50-50, while those owned by the federal government are completely funded by the feds. The state pays 25 percent for operations that also hold federal units or were opened for a federal directive, Drummond said.

Only three readiness centers are on federally owned or leased land, but Drummond said any new buildings probably will be built on federal land, like the new readiness center in Brunswick.

He said Maine would have had to contribute $5 million to $6 million -- nearly all of the department's budget -- toward the $23 million construction cost if it were on state-owned or leased land.

Since the 1990s, four readiness centers have been built or bought, and only two of those were to replace the 11 that were closed, according Drummond.

He said closing the armories caused the Maine National Guard to lose a presence in the communities and made it more difficult to recruit from those areas.

Having fewer readiness stations also makes it more challenging to respond to emergencies, Drummond said.

Rogers said the overall number of Maine National Guard members has remained consistent in recent years, and that the facility closings have been part of a general consolidation.

The average age of a readiness center in the country is 67 years, and most armories in the state will exceed that in 10 years, according to Drummond.

He said those aging armories probably won't be closed anytime soon, because he expects less federal money to be available for the construction of new facilities. Drummond said it could be another 25 years before they're all replaced.

"We're competing for limited resources, like everyone else," he said.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Paul Koenig can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

pkoenig@mainetoday.com

 

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