published Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Hamilton County mulls Chattanooga's firing range offer


by Cliff Hightower
Mayor Ron Littlefield speaks during a March 29 press conference at City Hall.
Mayor Ron Littlefield speaks during a March 29 press conference at City Hall.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • photo
    Sheriff Jim Hammond.
    Staff File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press
    enlarge photo

WHAT'S HAPPENING

The current firing range at Moccasin Bend is set to close at the end of this year because the 12-acre property will become part of Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District. Officials want to build a facility that would cost between $3 million to $4 million and include 25 stalls for officers to qualify in firearms. The structure also could include office space, classroom space and a gun vault.

Chattanooga officials are reaching out toward their Hamilton County counterparts for help in paying for a new indoor firing range.

But county officials are keeping details of what the talks entail private.

"They are preliminary," County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Friday.

The city put $1 million in its capital budget this week to help pay for an indoor firing range that would be located at the old Farmer's Market site on 11th Street or the old Army Reserve Center on 23rd Street.

The city also has $1 million in grants for the project.

Earlier this week, Mayor Ron Littlefield said he is asking "other governments" for another $1 million for the range project.

On Friday, he said the "other governments" is Hamilton County. Law enforcement personnel from other cities across the county also could use the facility, but those municipalities would be asked to pay a contract fee -- not upfront construction costs, he said.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said a meeting among city and county leaders is planned for next week on how to proceed with a jointly owned firing range.

County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said the county is fully aware of the need for a firing range.

"It's something we need to be very open to," he said.

But he also said a possible sheriff's department budget deficit, estimated at about $675,000, would affect discussion about the range.

"That's something that will be taken into consideration," he said.

Chattanooga City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said if the county did not contribute to the project, then the city likely would foot the rest of the bill. But the county needs the range as much as the city does, she noted.

"I find it unlikely other governments would not contribute," she said.

Littlefield said other options have been considered, such as contracting with a private range or using a firing range in Catoosa County, Ga. The Catoosa County range is just too far away for Chattanooga police officers to realistically use, he said, except perhaps on a temporary basis.

Contracting with a private range, he said, presents logistical problems for the range owner.

The amount of time law enforcement would need the facility "would "leave little time for public use," he said.

John Martin, co-owner of Shooter's Depot, agrees.

Martin said about 25 court officers use the range now. Any more than that, he said, and paying customers would not have any time to use the range.

"That's about as much as I could bear," he said.

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