Mount Pleasant trustees approved – with a 5-1 vote – the police department borrowing up to $350,000 from the village’s sewer utility to complete the MPPD firing range.
The loan will be interest free and will be paid back within seven years.
The firing range is expected to cost up to $475,000 to complete depending on details like the kind of backstops that will be used and the ventilation system needed to remove lead particles from the air. MPPD Lt. Scott Geyer said completion of the range will take about 90 days once the work gets underway.
Mount Pleasant police Chief Tim Zarzecki reviewed for the board that his department has about $125,000 for the range; $80,000 in impact fees set to expire this summer, private donations and $7,000 won by Officer Eric Giese in a police shooting contest last year. SC Johnson has pledged another $75,000 as well.
Zarzecki estimates having a range in the police department will save between $20,000 and $25,000 up front because officers will be able to complete their state-required firearms training and practice while they’re on duty. When police have to use private facilities, they do so on their off-hours, which incurs overtime plus the cost of renting the range.
The approval was expected, but it didn’t come without fireworks between Trustee Gary Feest and Village President Mark Gleason and Trustee David DeGroot.
Feest worried that taxpayers are really the ones footing the bill because quarterly sewer bills marked for sewer utility equipment and maintenance and the upkeep of the system itself.
“The voters should reasonably expect their collected money to be spent in the utility,” he said. “Police borrowing the money probably can be done, but we’ll be setting a dangerous precedent justifying a rate increase when the need arises.”
Feest also pointed out that when the new village hall was being planned in 2010, trustees promised residents that taxpayer funds would not be used in its construction. Building plans – which include the police department – featured a firing range, but it wasn’t completed because of cost.
Gleason called Feest disingenuous because funds from both stormwater and the sewer utility were used to build village hall and the new department of public works building.
“Let’s tell the truth here. Those funds are usually a cookie jar, but this is an interest-free loan that will be paid back,” he said. “We are going to get things done that need to get done, and we need to consider officer safety … Is $350,000 worth a dead officer? Think about that a while.”
Gleason was referring to recent suicides and at least one accident reported at area shooting ranges, incidents Zarzecki and Geyer also mentioned as reasons for needing the range.
DeGroot took past board members to task for not completing the range when the building was constructed, even if that meant borrowing for it.
“The only reason this matter is before the board tonight is because past boards failed to deal with it,” he said. “There were a number of Einsteins who held forth the notion that we should never borrow for anything.”
DeGroot also noted the longtime support of Trustees Sonny Havn and John Hewitt for the range and thanked them for having the vision to include the firing range shell in the design of the police department.
Several trustees also spoke of the need to have officers who are skilled and proficient in the use of their firearms and that police need to put in the practice and training required to maintain their certification.
Feest said he wasn’t disagreeing with the need, just the method for obtaining it.
“I understand the need (for the range), but the reason we didn’t finish it was because we didn’t have the money if we were going to keep our promise of not using taxpayer money for this building,” Feest added. “Taxpayers will pay back the $350,000, and I just want them aware of it.”
Zarzecki said he has letters from at least seven agencies – both state and federal – interested in using the Mount Pleasant range once it’s complete. It is anticipated that officers from Racine, Sturtevant, Caledonia and possibly the Racine County Sheriff’s Department will also utilize the range, bringing in additional rental fees.