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Our View: Gun range proposal not ready for prime time

Our View

There's a movement gaining steam to construct a joint police training facility in south Washington County for both Woodbury and Cottage Grove.

The argument goes like this: Both cities' police departments are growing and, combined, now comprise one of the largest police units in the state. The departments currently utilize facilities in Ramsey County for mandated training, but increasing demand there lengthens the waiting line for the gun range. Smaller private gun range facilities are available, but don't have the space to efficiently cycle the officers through training.

To remedy the problem, the departments have proposed building a facility somewhere in south Washington County that could be the exclusive training grounds for the Woodbury and Cottage Grove public safety departments. There, officers could utilize a gun range for firearms training as well as other training space for firefighters.

The price tag for the facility is estimated at $10 million. Half of that would be split between Woodbury and Cottage Grove, with the state picking up the other $5 million, according to a proposal.

Cottage Grove moved ahead on a portion of the request in June when its City Council submitted a formal request for state bonding dollars.

Last week, Woodbury City Council mulled over the idea of submitting its own request. But with too many unanswered questions leaving the council split, City Administrator Clint Gridley withdrew the staff's request to apply for bonding.

This, we believe, was the smart decision in the short term for the simple reason that the project is a long way from being fully vetted. Where would the facility be built? Exactly how much would it cost? What would the taxpayer impact be?

None of these questions have solid answers yet and Woodbury City Council members were right to pump the brakes until they can get them. We see this as responsible decision making.

It can be argued that it doesn't hurt to ask; the request could always be withdrawn. True, but we prefer the council's decision to wait until plans are fully developed.

Cottage Grove City Council's heart was probably in the right place in supporting the bonding request, though we can't help but wonder if it jumped the gun. A joint workshop between the two councils might have provided the forum for both cities to hash out a unified message. Unfortunately now, it could appear to some at the state level that the project doesn't have full support from both communities. We hope that kind of perception wouldn't hurt the project's chances moving forward after it's fully incubated.

On the surface, the project appears worthy and useful to both cities. However, it takes sturdy plans - not a rough outline - in order to commit public dollars. We expect those plans will take shape soon enough and should give council members a more solid basis to make a decision.

Until then, this is a project that's not yet ready for prime time.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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