Topeka The Kansas National Guard announced the closing Friday of 18 of its 56 armories, including facilities in Atchison, Garden City, Salina and Winfield.
Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state’s adjutant general, said the closings were a result of the state’s tight fiscal situation and careful deliberation over each site. The closings will be completed in most cases by the end of February.
“The tough decisions we are making today means jobs are saved,” Bunting said. “We stayed as long as we could. This is a sign of the times.”
The other armories being closed are located in Burlington, Chanute, Cherryvale, Council Grove, Fort Scott, Garnett, Goodland, Horton, Kingman, Larned, Phillipsburg, Russell, Sabetha and Troy.
Bunting says the closings will save nearly $157,000 in the current budget year and more than $260,000 in the fiscal year that starts July 1. He would not rule out additional armory closures in the coming months should state finances continue to sag.
“We are watching the budget like everyone else,” Bunting said.
Operations will be consolidated at the remaining 38 armories. Equipment and personnel will be transferred to those locations through the middle of 2010. As a result, 54 percent of the Army National Guard soldiers are within 50 miles of their drill and training sites, up from 52 percent before the closing announcement.
Bunting said the armories will revert to local ownership once the closings are complete. Bunting and his staff notified each community where armories are closing to break the news.
“We clearly understand that this is your community and your armory and you are clearly disappointed,” Bunting said.
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jay Emler said armories are important not only because of their role in Guard training but because they house equipment used in natural disasters. And, he noted, they’ve often sheltered people in storms.
But, he said, budget problems have forced Kansas to set priorities.
“The public has been served well by those armories, but in the long run, the public is probably going to be served better by education than armories,” said Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.
Kansas has closed 14 armories since 1982. Friday’s announcement follows similar action taken in Virginia and Washington earlier this year.
Three armories were closed this year by the Washington Military Department, leaving 23 statewide. The closures will save $176,000. Six other facilities are scheduled to close in 2010, said Capt. Steve Hobbs.
“The communities are hurt a little bit to see the armory gone,” Hobbs said. “There are a few communities that see it as an opportunity.”
Virginia closed two armories in December in Richmond and Roanoke. Maj. Cotton Puryear said the cuts were part of Gov. Tim Kaine’s budget-balancing package and will save Virginia $115,000.
Bunting said the closures would not affect the Guard’s ability to respond to natural disasters, noting there wasn’t an armory in Greensburg in 2007 when that town was leveled by a tornado.
“We don’t like to close armories. We like to be in as many counties as we can,” Bunting said.