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State's BRAC fight needs more money

By Staff
Staff and wire
July 19, 2003
Mississippi should consider putting more money into efforts to save its military bases in order to keep pace with other states committing larger sums, says Bill Crawford of Meridian.
Crawford, a state College Board member, is helping with the project as the board's liaison between state government and the Mississippi Military Communities Council.
This is going to be growing in intensity over the next 18 months,'' said Crawford, who added that the state has a tougher fight ahead of it than in previous base closure years.
The Department of Defense wants to close a large number of bases so money can be shifted elsewhere in the military budget. The Pentagon has estimated the country has about 25 percent more bases than it needs.
A Base Realignment and Closure or "BRAC" commission will recommend to the president and Congress which military facilities should be shut down.
All the state's defense facilities survived previous rounds of base closings in 1991, 1993 and 1995. There are nine bases in eight communities in Mississippi, including pilot training facilities at Meridian, Columbus and Biloxi.
The state and local communities have $300,000 this year to pay Washington-based consultant Barry Rhoads and his firm to help coordinate base-saving preparations. The money is being funneled through the College Board.
Crawford, community leaders and Rhoads met Wednesday in Jackson.
The recognition should be that with base closure as serious as it sounds the likelihood is that one or more of the several communities need work done that costs money,'' Crawford said.
Among those expenses, he said, could be the costs of environmental studies and improvements to various accommodations for the military bases.
Crawford said each community needs to decide what to do to stay off of the base closure list in the first place, but also have information ready to fight closure if they are listed.
Officials hope to meet with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in September to present a funding request. The committee makes spending recommendations to the Legislature.
There may be some things the Legislature may need to add on later that we don't know right now,'' said Crawford, who has worked to get Naval Air Station Meridian off past closure lists.
The preliminary work to be done is to try to stay off the (2005) list but then to also be preparing in case we get on the list for a very intense, short-term opportunity to defend the bases,'' he said.
The College Board on Thursday approved the contract the state and the Mississippi Military Communities Council has with Rhoads, who has been the state's base closure lobbyist since 1993.
The contract with Rhoads has the state putting up a total of $800,000 from July 2002 to June 2006, including money that will have to be provided later. The nine military communities will provide another $364,000 during that period.