Thursday, October 23, 2014 · 12:32 a.m.
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The Hamilton County Commission. (Photo: Staff)

Hamilton County commissioners are hoping certain questions can be answered before they vote on putting up to $1.5 million toward a new indoor shooting range. 

The $4 million facility, proposed to be located at the site of the old Farmers Market Warehouse on East 11th Street, would replace the current outdoor shooting range located on Moccasin Bend. The range is used by both the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the Chattanooga Police Department, along with other federal entities.

Along with funds from the county, the city of Chattanooga would provide a matching contribution of up to $1.5 million toward the facility. An additional $1,050,000 in federal grant money, procured years ago by former 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp, would also be put toward the range. 

Earlier this summer, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told City Council members he had decided to allocate funding for the project in the $96 million capital budget for this year, which the group ultimately voted to approve. 

Before discussing the proposal, Allen Branum, chief deputy for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, laid out details of the proposal for commissioners. Branum said that the move was prompted by new environmental regulations, along with a desire to return the land used for the current range over to Moccasin Bend National Park. 

"The deal was cut several years ago for us to eventually begin abandoning that property," Branum said. "The existing firing range is no longer usable … the days of us just being able to shoot into a bank are over."

Branum offered commissioners details of the range, from the 25 shooting lanes, bullet-trapping system and measures to ensure noise from gunfire would not be audible outside the building's parking lot. But several commissioners raised questions regarding long-term funding for the facility years after it becomes operational. 

Commissioner Tim Boyd asked Branum, along with Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, if the facility had been planned with an anticipated life cycle in mind. 

"What's the long-term obligation on the county's part?" Boyd asked. "How much will this increase our budget by?"

Louis Wright, finance administrator for the county, said the long-term funding structure for the range was still being developed. Wright added that there would, however, be the potential for revenues to be generated from the site by charging other law enforcement agencies from municipalities outside Hamilton County to use the range. 

"That's in the plan," Wright said. "That's a piece of revenue that previously was not there."

When asked how the new facility would accommodate long-range training, as the current range at Moccasin Bend allows, Police Chief Bobby Dodd said officers needing to train to shoot longer distances would likely be sent to practice at a range in Catoosa County. 

Dodd added that the trend for law enforcement agencies to move toward indoor ranges was occurring nationwide. 

"Everyone's going indoors because of the Environmental Protection Agency and other standards," Dodd said. 

Commissioner Joe Graham said that before he could vote to support the measure, he would need to be assured that law enforcement agencies for municipality in the county, such as Red Bank and Lookout Mountain, would not be charged additionally for using the range. Currently, the agencies are not charged to train at Moccasin Bend. 

"It kind of sounds like without all the numbers, we're approving a blank check," Graham said. "I'm really concerned about the ongoing expense, what it would do to the sheriff's budget, our budget and the municipalities we represent. I'd like to get more information if possible."

Still, Chairman Larry Henry seemed optimistic about the group moving ahead with the item.

"Personally I think this is a win-win for the county and the city of Chattanooga as a whole," Henry said. 

The commission will vote on a resolution for funding the range next week. 

In other news, commissioners opted to create a committee to oversee possible enhancements to a Hamilton County courtroom. Last week, the group squabbled over the $8,000 in funds recommended to be put toward renovations after learning that certain commissioners had examined the courtroom and discussed possible changes that could be made without their colleagues' knowledge. 

Commissioner Greg Beck was tapped to lead the committee. Commissioners Tim Boyd, Chester Bankston and Jim Fields will be the committee's members. 

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