WARNER ROBINS — Over the next few months, local leaders will get a snapshot of how Houston County and the midstate stack up against other industrial military base communities when the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission comes calling.
The 21st Century Partnership, a community organization that supports Robins Air Force Base, is spending $175,000 to conduct 15 studies looking at factors such as education, crime rates and medical care. The same information is being gathered from a dozen other communities where military industrial bases are located.
The first four studies are expected to be completed by the end of March, then more will follow with the last to be finished by the end of June.
The studies are being done by the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, president of the 21st Century Partnership, said at Thursday’s partnership meeting each area of the studies would be considered by BRAC in determining whether to close a base.
“From my perspective, this is the test,” McMahon said. “We have an open-book test in the next BRAC. Could there be other questions? The answer is yes, but we know based upon past history these are the areas both inside the fence and outside the fence that past BRACs have looked at.”
The information would be shared with local leaders, and if the community is found to be trailing in an area, a plan would be made to try to improve that before the next BRAC.
A BRAC is expected in either 2015 or 2017 due to an excess of infrastructure capacity in the Department of Defense. The last BRAC was in 2005.
The studies include crime, education, cost of living, health care, economic impact, innovation, housing, child care, capacity to absorb new missions, transportation, veterans services, air quality, encroachment, capacity to grow and community cost reduction.
The innovation study looks at a wide range of factors that include such things as the number of patents filed out of a given community, the diversity of its businesses, and rate at which businesses start up and fail. The community cost-reduction study looks at a community’s ability to help a base reduce operating costs. That would include factors such as utilities, recreation and food services.
Results of the studies will be given in two ways. The first looks at what the Census Bureau calls the metropolitan statistical area of each base community. For Robins that would mostly be Houston County. But the studies will give a separate ranking of the larger community, which for Robins would also include Peach, Bibb, Twiggs and Pulaski counties.
The two methods would figure to be different in how the area might compare to other communities. McMahon said the ranking in medical care, for example, might improve by including Bibb because of the medical facilities there. In education, it might rank higher with only Houston, and then the argument could be made that a large majority of military members send their children to Houston schools.
Brad Fink, chairman of the partnership board, urged members to take the threat of another BRAC seriously.
“We are in a different time right now,” Fink said. “This isn’t a black cloud comment, but we better be on our game.”
On Tuesday, while speaking to the Warner Robins Rotary Club, McMahon also gave a warning about the next BRAC.
“This is going to be a whole lot more like the BRAC we had in 1995 that focuses on reducing infrastructure than the BRAC of 2005, which was focused on reducing cost,” he said. “As you know, in 1995 we closed two of the five air logistics centers.”
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.