Fort Stewart invited its community partners to a working lunch Friday to discuss cuts to the installation’s operating budget. The installation periodically holds events like the Community Leaders Lunch to encourage dialogue between the post and local leaders.
Mayors, county commission chairmen and county and city administrators from communities surrounding Fort Stewart, including Hinesville, Richmond Hill, Flemington, Pembroke and Midway, and Liberty, Bryan and Evans counties attended the event.
“We’re here today to see what they’re going to do,” said Evans County Commission Chairman Phillip Richey.
Military leaders told their civilian counterparts funding has been reduced for a number of services at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield along with other Army installations across the country.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, 3rd ID deputy commander general-rear and garrison commander Col. Kevin Milton said the post’s operating budget for 2010 is about a 50 percent decrease over last year’s $184 million operational budget.
Milton said Fort Stewart has been able to rely on contingency funds in the past to fund services, but now the post must function solely on its operational budget. The level of some services will have to be reduced, he said.
Phillips said although all installation services are valued by someone, post services must be prioritized.
“We’re looking at areas where the budget can be cut,” Phillips said. “Mostly now, we’re not hiring.”
The general said post officials are mindful of how cuts will affect soldiers and their families, and surrounding communities.
Milton emphasized Army Family Covenant programs will not be affected by cuts to the installation’s operating budget.
Child care and youth services, in addition to soldier training and deployment preparation and installation fire and police protection services, will not be affected, Milton and Phillips said.
Phillips said people can expect grass in post common areas to grow longer, soldiers will be offered online tax preparation services instead of tax preparers coming to them and fewer guards will be placed at Fort Stewart’s gates.
Despite cuts to the post operating budget, construction and maintenance will continue as planned, they said. Fort Stewart’s construction budget for 2010 is $135 million, Milton said.
Milton said the troop deployment does not really impact installation services one way or another.
“The family members are still here,” he said.
Phillips said he hopes new ideas and opportunities for volunteerism and joint support would come out of the day’s working luncheon with community leaders.
“We may be able to help them in some ways, like getting our soldiers out to area attractions,” the general said.
Community leaders did not seem surprised by Fort Stewart’s budgetary reassessment. City and county governments, as well as the federal government, are experiencing the same fiscal challenges due to the recession, they said.
Prior to the luncheon, Bryan County Administrator Phil Jones said he did not think jobs would be cut; rather, some (civilian) positions at Fort Stewart would likely not be filled.
Jones, who served in the military, said he expects there to be a hiring freeze and some early retirements.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas agreed and appeared not to be concerned by Fort Stewart’s operational budget cuts.
“I really don’t think it will affect Hinesville very much,” Thomas said. “Fort Stewart is mostly handling (personnel reductions) through attrition. They will only hire people for those jobs that are deemed absolutely necessary, as determined by the garrison commander.”
Thomas said Hinesville has always supported Fort Stewart, and will continue to do so.
“We’re trying to take care of (military) families,” he said. “We asked them (Fort Stewart leaders) what we could do with the folks that live in the city, to help them anyway we could. We will do what we can to assist them.”