- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) - More than 2,000 Kansas residents attended a town hall meeting Monday showing support for Fort Riley as military officials consider personnel cuts at the base.

The Army is planning to downsize personnel from a war-time high of 570,000 to 450,000 at the end of 2017 and 420,000 by 2020. Fort Riley employs more than 25,000 military and civilian workers, and fort officials have said that as many as 16,000 could be dismissed or redeployed.

Jeff Riffel, 44, who is a civilian worker on the base and a councilman in nearby town of Wakefield, said reducing personnel at the base would “devastate” the communities around it.

“The whole area is built upon military housing. It would not only affect the jobs that are leaving Fort Riley, every area would suffer greatly,” Riffel said.

The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce estimates that the base’s total economic contribution to the state was $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2012, according to its website.

Terry Deweese, 64, who runs a hair salon in Manhattan, estimated that about half of his customers are military and many of his employees are military spouses.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas spoke in favor of keeping personnel at current levels at the base.

Moran said that the 2011 federal budget bill known as sequestration that resulted in deep cuts to the military “makes no sense at a time when our country is in jeopardy.”

Mark Sanner, a 45-year-old Wamego resident, said that although reductions in troops would severely affect his business, he doesn’t fault the decision-makers in Washington.

“They have to look at the big picture and none of us like paying taxes, so they’re trying to do what’s right,” Sanner said.

Brownback said after the meeting that military officials had told him the state could help persuade the Pentagon avoid Fort Riley cuts by providing well-funded schools for military families, high-quality infrastructure in the area around the base and the possibility to connect the base to renewable energy sources.

Brownback said that the state has fulfilled its promises on those issues, but education and infrastructure have been the targets of budget cuts in recent years.

Last week, Kansas legislators passed a plan for eliminating the state’s budget shortfall that diverted $158 million from highway projects, and Brownback has said he will cut planned funding for public schools by $28 million.

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