published Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Hamilton County nixes vote over firing range

An empty lot that is a possible space for a new indoor shooting range for the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
An empty lot that is a possible space for a new indoor shooting range for the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
In other business, commissioners:

• Agreed to pay $176,526 to Custom Truck and Body Works for a new ambulance for the county's emergency medical service.

• Agreed to pay a $90,000 settlement to Gayla Moates, a former employee of County Register Pam Hurst. Moates sued the city for allegedly being discriminated against.

• Accepted an amended grant agreement with the Tennessee Department of Human Services and the Hamilton County Juvenile Court to replace a failing alarm system.

• Approved a $33,750 software support contract with City Works from Azteca Systems for the Geographic Information Systems Department.

A vote - and likely a debate - over whether Hamilton County will pitch in more cash for the over-budget police firing range it's building with the city of Chattanooga was nixed Wednesday.

Commission Chairman Fred Skillern pulled the item from the agenda, saying Sheriff Jim Hammond asked to remove the resolution to increase the county's investment in the project by $550,000 from $1.5 million to $2.05 million. Hammond first asked for the resolution last month.

On Wednesday, Hammond told commissioners there had "not been enough due diligence with this [project]" and said he would rather see the county and city mayors take a closer look at costs. Then he would return to the commission when actual construction bids were in.

After the meeting, Hammond said the proposed resolution had simply been made prematurely.

"There were enough questions about this from the commission that we felt we needed to back this up," Hammond said. "The city is really the lead on this, and I think it would be remiss for us to try to push this through without seeing what that final cost will be."

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Wednesday the project, which started three years ago under former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, largely had been guided by the city. Hammond, along with finance and engineering staff, was coordinating with Chattanooga. But the county would get more involved, Coppinger said.

"This has been something that has kind of been someone else's project. But decisions today were made for me to engage the city and get into this," he said. "The ultimate goal is to build a cost-effective firing range -- but also that this is something that meets the specifications of a law enforcement training facility."

Hammond said tabling the issue for now is the best move.

"A simple up-or-down vote on this would not have done [the project] justice," Hammond said.

Travis McDonough, chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, said the city welcomes the new input and said the two administrations already speak regularly.

Watching costs will be important, but training for law enforcement will remain at the forefront, he said.

"We will continue to have a good understanding of what our public safety employees need," McDonough said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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