South Carolina communities located near military bases are receiving grants to help them prevent possible base closures over the next few years.
The South Carolina Military Base Task Force approved $160,000 in grants at its quarterly meeting Thursday. The money will be divided evenly amongst the state’s four cities (Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, and Sumter) that are situated near military installations. The money will have few strings attached, but is meant for improving the infrastructure or lives of military members. South Carolina is trying to make itself as military-friendly as possible— with the knowledge that the Department of Defense is expected to begin another round of base closures within the next five years.
“The communities can be more sensitive to the local hot button (issues) than we can,” task force chairman Bill Bethea said after the meeting. “This focus says: you take these funds and use them as you think best, but in support of the statewide objectives of helping everybody.” Bethea said the task force is mostly trying to improve the local infrastructure for South Carolina’s bases to make them more appealing and less likely to be closed in the future. There are rumors that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) could begin meeting again by 2015 (though most of the task force members believe 2016 or 2017 is more likely).
A Defense Department coordinator told the seven-member board that South Carolina is ahead of most states in the benefits it offers veterans and active-duty soldiers. But Southeast regional liaison Kevin Bruch said South Carolina still lagged in a few categories— most notably education.
Specifically, he said the Defense Department would like to see South Carolina allow veterans to waive the one-year residency requirement needed to get in-state tuition at colleges. Bruch said more streamlined agreements are needed, so each base does not have to deal with different rules depending on the nearby city or county. Both proposals were moving through the state legislature when the session ended in June. Bethea said he thinks at least some of the grant money will be used to push for those changes to become law. He said bipartisan support exists for both measures in the House and Senate.
South Carolina has lost two military bases to closures in the past two decades— Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in 1993 and Charleston Naval Base in 1996.