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Bang for the buck?

July 26, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The Cape Coral Police Department will bring its request for $650,000 to fund the design component of its planned $8.3 million public safety training center back to City Council on Monday.

The update comes in the wake of a gubernatorial veto of a hoped-for state appropriation for the facility to help offset total costs that otherwise will come primarily from police impact fees and reserves of which the CCPD has $4.6 million available. Another $900,000 is expected in next year's budget.

The city had requested $2.7 million for the indoor gun range it plans to build on a 15-acre portion of the old Zemel property at Andalusia and Durden parkways.

The State Legislature whittled the request down to $500,000 but Gov. Ron DeSantis axed even that this session, meaning there currently are no state funds allocated toward the project.

Council, in June, approved the $650,000 design expenditure based, in part, on the city's request for supplemental state funds. Those state funds, though, were not requested specifically to pay for the design and so the CCPD would like to move forward with the plans it says it needs to get grant money approval.

"The Department's intention has always been to use Police Impact Fee Reserves for the concept and design portion of the gun range and seek additional sources of funding for other aspects of the project," the CCPD summary explanation sent to Council in advance of Monday's meeting states.

The design component is needed "to establish an accurate cost for the project which will strengthen opportunities for other state and private funding, as well as identify if current or future Police Impact Fees will support the total cost of the Police Gun Range."

The city's administration has included the entire $8.3 million projected cost for the facility in the local funding requests portion of the city's 2020 State Legislative Initiatives packet, also up for Council consideration Monday.

City officials say the indoor gun range is needed to better provide for its 250 sworn officers who are required to annually demonstrate proficiency in the variety of firearms they use on duty, including handguns, shotguns and patrol rifles.

Given Southwest Florida's weather conditions, an indoor range is a necessity and continued use of the facility in Buckingham operated by the Lee County Sheriff's Office and used by other local agencies is not practical for its growing department, city officials have said. The drive is unproductive, results in overtime, and the city cannot always schedule according to its needs, police officials have added.

We agree that training is paramount.

We agree that ease and the efficient use of personnel time are important considerations.

We are, though, concerned about building an in-city range that would duplicate, and possibly compete with, a county facility already paid for with public funds. We also question using police impact fees to do it.

The $7.7 million Lee County Gun Range at 6570 Felix Romano Ave. was paid for with property tax dollars. It is 35 minutes from the Cape Coral Police Department.

While open to the public, the 51,000-square- foot "comprehensive training facility" is primarily devoted to law enforcement firearms training," the Lee County Sheriff's Office website states. It offers two separate gun ranges and houses the Lee County Sheriff's Office Training Unit and multiple classrooms.

Multiple police agencies use the county owned and maintained facility, which is staffed and managed by the Sheriff's Office.

The city, meanwhile, wants to make its facility "usable for other municipalities and law enforcement agencies to generate revenue as well," according to Cape Mayor Joe Coviello.

"That's something we're going to talk about moving forward," he said in an earlier interview.

We ask: Does the purported ease and efficiency outweigh the cost of constructing, staffing and operating a second facility in Lee County to be funded, in all likelihood, primarily with city tax dollars? And should Cape taxpayers pay twice for the redundancy?

We are sure that city officials will point out that they plan on funding most of the cost of the CCPD facility with impact fee dollars -- which are not property tax dollars -- should no state money be forthcoming,

True enough.

But make no mistake that impact fees are a tax, a tax on new construction designed to make "growth pay for growth," in this case to offset the cost of equipping the additional police officers needed to service new homes and businesses.

If those funds are spent on a new gun range instead of additional police cars, equipment, or even, say, a substation in the north Cape, from where will that money come?

Our guess is, of course, property tax dollars.

The same tax dollars that also will be needed to staff and maintain the new training center. The same tax dollars that helped pay for and fund the existing training center, though from a much larger ad valorem pocket.

The city's subsidization of its municipal school system is a cautionary tale of duplication and the subsequent need to ask Cape Coral taxpayers to pay twice.

We ask Council to weigh bang for the buck, state funds or not, as it shoots for the moon on this one.

-Breeze editorial



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