Chattanooga City Council members passed Mayor Ron Littlefield's $96 million capital budget on first reading Tuesday, but plenty of debate remains before the group will be able to offer final approval to the plan next week.
The group passed the measure in a 5-2 vote. Council members Deborah Scott and Russell Gilbert voted no, Councilman Peter Murphy abstained and Councilwoman Sally Robinson was absent.
On Tuesday afternoon, Littlefield unexpectedly told council members he had decided to reallocate $1 million of capital budget funds to pay for a new indoor firing range for Chattanooga Police Department officers. Along with the $1 million provided by the city, the $3 million facility would be funded by an additional $1,050,000 in federal grants that were secured years ago by former 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp, and $1 million in funds would come from "other government entities."
While the mayor presented council members with a slideshow detailing recent tours he took of indoor shooting facilities in Roswell, Ga., and Orlando, Fla., he informed the group that the current firing range shared by the city and county on Moccasin Bend had become completely encompassed by national park land and that park service officials had asked that the land be turned over for future park use and expansion.
When describing efforts to locate an alternative outdoor location for a firing range, Littlefield said Chattanooga had become too urbanized over recent years.
"We've driven and tromped all over looking for something that is similar to Moccasin Bend, and the long and short is there is none," Littlefield said. "… We do need to have a firing range. We need access and something that can be used reasonably."
The mayor offered two potential sites—the 23rd Street Armory and the old Farmers Market Warehouse on East 11th Street. Littlefield described possible buildings on both sites as resembling "a Walgreens drug store" with no possibility for sound to be heard outside the facilities.
Discussion between council members regarding the firing range was light, as the group chose to focus on other areas of the capital budget to voice concerns.
Councilwoman Deborah Scott took issue with $1.5 million allocated for a new recreation center in Hixson, saying that the funds could be better used toward repairing distressed roads across the city. Scott also said she wasn't convinced the city should put $8 million toward repairing the concrete hardedge along the city's 21st-century waterfront at Ross's Landing.
"Those roads are roads that service neighborhoods and businesses, who are paying taxes," Scott said. "And the places we're spending the most money are paying essentially none. I think we need to rearrange and reallocate Hixson and look at decreasing the amount of money in the Ross's Landing riverfront hardedge."
Larry Zehnder, city administrator of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said that the impact of delaying or slowing down repairs to the waterfront could impact the city for years, which relies on the area as an economic driver for downtown.
"You can't just call this stuff off," he said.
The council will meet next week to finalize budget plans before voting.
Council members also voted 7-1 to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would transfer enforcement duties for downtown parking to CARTA. Allen McCallie, attorney for CARTA, said the entity would employ a "larger force of personnel" dedicated to managing and enforcing parking meters, which would likely lead to more tickets and higher collections for the city.
McCallie also said an appeals process would be formed for citizens who thought they had been ticketed erroneously or unfairly and that "ambassadors" would be on duty to assist people who might not have a full understanding of parking enforcement.
Scott cast the lone vote against the measure.