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By BILL MOSS
Although Henderson County’s $20 million law enforcement training center doesn’t open until late 2018, county officials are already mulling ideas to offset the operating cost.
Sheriff Charlie McDonald and his chief deputy, Jason Brown, said architect Clark Nexsen has not yet given them a final cost projection for operating the center. County Manager Steve Wyatt said the cost has been projected at around $200,000 a year, not counting personnel. The center will have a powerful exhaust system to remove the discharge from firearms that officers will be shooting at two firing ranges.
County commissioners have suggested that law enforcement outside Henderson County may rent the facility or pay to train there.
“We would actually market it,” County Manager Steve Wyatt said. “You’d be able to market to agencies within a two- or three-hour drive because of the capacity we’re going to have. You can drive a vehicle into this thing and put on scenario training. We’ve got to figure what the market is.”
“As we go forward we’ll need to figure out how to maximize and it may likely be that it will take a year of operation” to ascertain how much capacity is available.
The sheriff and county commissioners emphasize that local agencies will be able to use the training center and the firing ranges at no cost.
“Their people are taxpayers,” Wyatt said of the three municipal police departments in the county. “They’ll be scheduled. So then we talked about, let’s say if you’re a Highway Patrol trooper and you’re assigned to Henderson County. If you’re say, the Haywood County sheriff’s department you’re a customer and you’ll fit under that fee schedule. It’s not
going to be cheap but it’ll be a tremendous value.”
State Rep. Chuck McGrady was in the audience at a budget workshop when county commissioners talked about asking the state to offset the cost of the training center.
“Assuming area agencies commit, they would come back to the state and say this is a regional facility,”
McGrady said. “I don’t want to prejudge it but I’m not wildly excited about it.”
Besides training his own deputies, Sheriff McDonald says the training center offers great benefits to the cadets in the basic law enforcement training program at Blue Ridge Community College. The center will be built on the BRCC campus on the site of the now abandoned baseball field.
“We will provide them first pick,” he said. “We work very well together. We take their recruits, the ones that qualify, so it’s an opportunity for partnership anyway. It’s certainly more convenient for them.”
The center will provide space to state standards for physical training.
“What they would be coming to us for is POPAT (police officer physical abilities test),” said Brown, the chief deputy who is closely involved in planning the training center. “This will give them access to shower facilities.” BRCC offers physical training classes at night “because state standard says if you’re going to do PT in the morning you have to have access to shower facilities. They don’t have shower facilities.”
McDonald has not set an operations budget either but says the personnel who would oversee training are already on the payroll. He has a fulltime training officer and firearms instructor.
“Any time’s it’s operational we will have somebody there,” he said. “It certainly will involve one person full time and probably some others from here. I’ll need one person to be kind of the range/training center guru.”
Commissioners would like to see the state and law enforcement agencies west of I-77 offset operating costs. McDonald sounds less enthusiastic.
“Honestly, as a sheriff I want it to be affordable for those outside of Henderson County because really for me the biggest thing is training, giving these folks the training they need,” he said. “We’ve gotten several emails from other sheriffs and chiefs saying, ‘Let us know when it comes on line. We’d be very interested,’ and they understand it would be at some cost to them to help offset the operating cost. If you ask me straight up is it ever going to be a money maker for us I don’t see that happening.”