Review unproductive armories, audit says

Friday, March 7, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri National Guard should consider closing some of its older armories in need of extensive repairs and those that are under-utilized, a new state audit suggests.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill's report, issued Thursday, says 17 of the 63 armories around the state -- 27 percent -- are rated as condition "red," meaning they are in the worst possible condition as determined by the Guard.

Four of those deficient armories are in Southeast Missouri -- Caruthersville, Charleston, Dexter and Sikeston.

The audit did not call for the closure of those armories but suggested that the Guard's adjutant general evaluate whether the need for those facilities justifies the cost of improving and maintaining them.

The Guard hopes to spend $33 million combined over the next eight years for upgrades and repairs to all of its armories. Those on the condition red list will cost an average of $550,000 each over that period to fix and maintain.

The audit also said that some facilities appear to be under-used. Particularly in cases where there is another armory in a nearby town, auditors suggested one could be closed.

A Guard spokesman said officials in the adjutant general's office had not seen the audit and weren't prepared to comment. The Guard's official response included in the report says it "agrees in concept" that money could be saved by closing deficient or under-used facilities.

In January, a Guard official held a meeting with current and former troops in Cape Girardeau warning of armory eliminations. However, he said Cape Girardeau's was "pretty safe."

Influencing lawmakers

Earlier attempts to do so, however, have faced stiff opposition. But with the Missouri Legislature currently seeking ways to drastically reduce state spending, lawmakers might be receptive to the idea.

"In the past, political sensitivities have not allowed closure options to be seriously considered," the Guard said. "In view of the current state financial challenges, such solutions may now be more feasible."

State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said the topic was discussed during recent hearings of the House appropriations committee that oversees the Guard's budget. Engler is the vice chairman of that committee.

The problem, he said, is that no community wants to lose its armory. Substantial political pressure to protect targeted facilities makes taking such action difficult.

"If we were to be able to do that, we would almost have to have an independent group that comes up with a consensus on which ones could be closed," Engler said.

No effort to establish an outside board to study armory closures is currently being pursued in the legislature.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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