AUGUSTA — Legislators are considering a plan to rent space in Maine’s 27 National Guard armories for state and local offices, and use the money to help defray the armories’ expenses.
The Legislature’s Aging, Retirement and Veterans Committee proposed the idea to the Appropriations Committee as part of a plan to cut about $1 million from the state Department of Defense and Veterans’ Services’ budget.
The idea, which originated with state military officials, has the support of National Guard leaders who see the potential of new revenue as a way to keep the armories open and help pay for heat and utilities.
Sen. Dale McCormick, D-Monmouth, Senate chairwoman of the committee, said the National Guard also is being expected to increase its marketing of the state’s armories for things like trade and entertainment shows to raise more money for its own operating expenses.
Several armories have more space than they need and could provide areas where offices could be built. McCormick says the state paid nearly $13 million in rent last year, $3.5 million of which was paid for office space in Augusta alone, while thousands of square feet of space goes unused in the state’s armories.
“The idea is that they should identify how much drill space is assigned to each unit and see how much space is left over,” she said.
She said her committee considered closing armories around the state to save money. But legislators said closing the armories would eliminate their use both for the National Guard and the communities where they are located.
The Augusta armory alone has 5,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet of undeveloped space available, said McCormick.
“We’re paying $106,000 for the Audit Department’s rent in the Key Bank building and that’s 6,000 square feet,” she noted.
National Guard Brig. Gen. Nelson Durgin, director of the state Military Bureau, said he thought the idea could work.
He said he would like the armories to be able to offer office space at lower rents to state, local and non-profit agencies. But he said the agencies would have to pay to turn the armory space into offices.