WATERVILLE — Rising costs and fewer active members are forcing the Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5 to close its lounge at the end of the month, laying off two full-time employees and eliminating regular post hours.

The post’s executive committee made that decision at its meeting Thursday, according to Commander Craig Bailey.

“The post is not closing,” Bailey said Friday. “We’re going to close down full-time operations of our lounge, and that’s what we had to make a decision and vote on this week.”

The lounge at the former post home on College Avenue had longer hours, but when it moved to 120 Drummond Ave., the hours were reduced to save money, according to Bailey. The lounge is now open noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s mainly open to our members,” he said. “The (post) is not going to be open full-time. We may open it on special occasions or for certain events, but normal operations will be ceasing at the end of the month.”

The two full-time lounge employees are spouses of Legion members, he said.

“We gave them plenty of notice of what we were doing so they could start looking for other employment and unemployment,” he said.

Too few people were using the lounge and the cost of running it increased, according to Bailey.

“The minimum wage went up, the cost of workers compensation, unemployment insurance, state and federal taxes — they all cost money,” he said.

Other Legion posts have a building or location but do not have full-time operations, employees or a lounge, according to Bailey. Once the changes are made at the end of May, the Waterville legion will have no paid employees, he said.

“We won’t have regular hours. There will be a couple of us that, if people want to call, they can, if they have questions. We will still have it open for meetings and auxiliary meetings and for the Legion Riders and Sons of the American Legion.”

Bailey said making the decision to change the way the Legion operates was difficult. Officials had been trying to do different things to make the numbers work.

“We finally had to get myself and others to realize that it probably isn’t working out full time,” he said. “We’re still a post. We still have members and we’re going to have activities, but it’s just not going to be business as usual, with somebody there every day of the week like it used to be.”

The largest Legion post in Maine in terms of paid memberships — the post has 444 members — Bourque-Lanigan has only about 45 members who take part in activities, spend time at the post, attend meetings and come out to socialize with other veterans, Bailey said recently.

The post gets its funds from member dues, some of which go to the state and national Legion. Funds also are garnered from fundraisers and donations, and people donate time as well.

Its members include veterans who live locally and throughout the state and the country, as well as “snow birds” who winter in warmer climates and return in the summer, according to Bailey.

He said younger people become members but tend to stay home and connect with other veterans on social media. Bailey announced in March that the organization has been working to create awareness about what it does and continues to raise money for programs that serve veterans and to maintain the post building.

The Legion annually hosts Boys State at Thomas College in Waterville, where boys from all over Maine are housed and fed for a week and are taught civics and local, state and national government. They learn how elections work and are appointed to committees and learn about democracy. The Legion auxiliaries do a similar program for girls.

The Legion also maintains scholarship programs for high school seniors heading to college, usually students who are dependents or children of veterans, and hosts an oratorical event that focuses on the U.S. Constitution.

A veterans service officer at the post who is knowledgeable about paperwork, filing, timelines and medical documents the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs looks for if a veteran thinks he or she has a service-connected disability helps veterans navigate the process. The officer also provides information about other veteran-related issues.

The post organizes the Veterans Day parade and marches in the Memorial Day parade, which is organized by the Forrest J. Pare Veterans of Foreign Wars post 1285, of Waterville.

 

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