published Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Hamilton County Commission balks at firing range costs

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.

If Hamilton County is going to pony up another $550,000 for the indoor police firing range it's building with Chattanooga, commissioners want three more weeks to learn what taxpayers would get for their money.

The county and city already have pledged $1.5 million each toward the project, alongside $1.05 million in federal grant money. The range is set to be built in the 700 block of East 12th Street and will serve as a training center for county deputies and Chattanooga police officers.

Sheriff Jim Hammond appeared before commissioners Wednesday to say the project needs $1.1 million more to cover the cost of soil remediation and professional fees not included in original estimates. That figure was $50,000 more than one given Tuesday. He asked commissioners to pay half the extra cost with the expectation the city would handle the rest.

The City Council has not taken up the issue, and would not on the "immediate horizon," according to Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Mayor Andy Berke.

Wednesday's request brought a slew of questions and commentary from commissioners. The most vehement came from Commissioner Tim Boyd.

He said he'd asked earlier about the soil and was told it was clean enough for construction. He criticized Hammond for making proposals to the commission with "incomplete information."

"If I went to my boss and said I want a million-dollar change order, I'd be fired," Boyd said. "Before this commission spends another dollar, we need some more information. ... That just don't get it in my private business world."

Boyd sparked controversy in June after he addressed the City Council and said the county wouldn't pay over the agreed-upon $1.5 million. Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said afterward Boyd's actions were a political move or possibly caused by "a lack of medication."

Before his comments Wednesday, Boyd jokingly made his position clear.

"I want the media to know that I have taken my meds today, so the City Council can relax on that issue," he said.

In response to Boyd, Hammond said he thought the soil was ready for building at the time, and he was "a bit out of [his] league" when it came to specifics at the site. He said Chattanooga had been leading the way on construction plans.

After much discussion -- and a 20-minute power outage -- Chairman Fred Skillern said the issue would be deferred until the Nov. 13 agenda session.

That would give commissioners time to have questions answered and allow for architects and city officials to attend and speak about details. Commissioners shouldn't spend money without all the details, he said.

"Bankers don't lend money like that, and we shouldn't be spending taxpayer dollars like that," Skillern said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com 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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