Topeka — The state’s adjutant general said preparations are continuing to close at least 18 National Guard armories in Kansas to alleviate budget problems.
Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting told a Senate committee Wednesday that work on consolidation of about one-third of the state’s 56 armories was proceeding as planned. Fifteen of the facilities will be shut down by the end of February, he said, with the three others to close several months later to accommodate programs tied to the school year.
“We don’t like to close armories,” he said. “Some of the communities are hoping we can change our minds.”
Bunting told members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee the realignment was triggered by a $156,000 reduction in the state’s appropriation the Kansas National Guard in the current fiscal year and a proposed cut of $264,000 in the upcoming fiscal year. The state government is grappling with a deficit expected to reach about $400 million.
He said the Kansas Guard would need an infusion of $1.2 million to adequately maintain the remaining armories.
Several members of the Senate panel questioned the two-star general about the decision to close armories in their region.
Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, inquired as to whether city and county officials were approached about contributing a stream of funding that might keep a local armory open. Bunting said conversations might have occurred along those lines in the past but weren’t part of deliberations that produced the list of 18 facilities destined for closure.
Pyle also questioned the wisdom of shuttering an armory serving members of the Kansas Guard deployed overseas and the influence the decision might have on troop morale.
In northeast Kansas around Hiawatha, armories in Sabetha, Horton, Atchison and Troy are scheduled for closure.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Dean Tollefson, who served in the state guard from 1955 to 1998, said Bunting should postpone implementation of the closure orders for armories serving any of the 300 to 400 soldiers serving a peacekeeping mission in Egypt. About half will lose their home armory in Kansas, he said.
“Put off closures until they return,” said Tollefson, who attended the Senate committee meeting. “Why are we taking armories out of our communities?”
Bunting said financial realities of the state’s budget, demographic changes in Kansas and realignment of the Kansas Guard’s force structure made the decision appropriate at this time. Armories in Kansas were built decades ago along key transportation routes, but population and commerce has altered that map.
Since 2000, the Kansas Guard’s force structure has been reduced by 1,500 people. Some of the armories targeted for elimination have less than 50 soldiers training at them, but the facilities were designed to operate with troop strengths ranging from 100 to 150 troops.
Other cities expected to lose armories in Kansas are Council Grove, Burlington, Garnett, Salina, Russell, Chanute, Fort Scott, Cherryvale, Winfield, Kingman, Larned, Phillipsburg, Goodland and Garden City.
Bunting said he alternative to downsizing the number of armories would be to eliminate staff.
“We’re out of anything else to cut — other than people,” he said.