BROOKSVILLE — When Hernando County's deputies need their annual skills training in shooting and driving, they have to leave the county. Sheriff Richard Nugent is hoping the County Commission can help them stay home.
On Tuesday, the commissioners will consider the sheriff's request to develop 50 acres of the Hernando County landfill into a training center that will be used by the Sheriff's Office and other Hernando public safety providers.
The center, which would be built in phases, would eventually include a shooting range, a driving range, classrooms, facilities for canine training and an arena for the mounted patrol, according to Royce Decker, chief of the sheriff's Law Enforcement Services Bureau.
"We're going to try to make it multipurpose," he said.
While the idea had been talked about before, the Sheriff's Office budget had no funding available. Now, enough money has been accumulated through drug forfeitures to allow the design and building to begin, Decker said.
"We don't know all the details and the bottom line yet, but we'd like to move forward with the engineering study,'' he said.
One major impetus for the proposal is that the Sheriff's Office recently was given word that the facilities it uses for training in Citrus County, a shooting range and training center operated by the Withlacoochee Technical Institute at the Citrus County landfill, were becoming pricier.
The former lease of $6,000 per year was increased to $16,000 per year.
"Sixteen thousand dollars is a big hit," Decker said.
In addition, the department also has used a shooting facility in Dade City, but that range is specifically for special, low-lead content ammunition that is expensive. With the new technology available, Decker said, a local shooting range that allows standard, cheaper ammunition will be possible and still not risk environmental contamination.
Decker said the Sheriff's Office intends to explore other area shooting ranges in the meantime to avoid paying the high cost of the Citrus and Dade City facilities until its own range could be built.
There would be other benefits to building its own facilities, including lower travel and meal costs, as well as providing a security presence at the landfill. Also, it would keep Hernando deputies in the county instead of sending them elsewhere, he said. Another plus is not having to fit into a schedule around other agencies using facilities.
"This is in the public interest, a benefit to all residents," Decker said.
Hernando deputies take 30 hours of training every year and, at the end of four years, end up with 80 more training hours than the state mandates. The training ranges from techniques to make a safe traffic stop to dealing with domestic violence. Firearms certification is an annual requirement.
The area under consideration at the landfill is not usable for landfill operations, is on the fringe of the property near the Suncoast Parkway and will not affect neighborhoods or homes, Decker said.
"We would build large berms that would deflect the sound upward. We want to be mindful of the community," he said.
The idea has the support of county utilities director Joe Stapf.
"There is no doubt law enforcement officers need regular training to stay certified in all aspects of their jobs. Critical split-second decisions, especially in the potential use of firearms, is the nature of the job," he wrote in a memo to County Administrator David Hamilton. "Also, the idea of an increased presence of law enforcement personnel on remote county-owned property very much appeals to me."
Stapf confirmed that the area under consideration is not needed or planned for use as part of the landfill operation. He expressed support for allowing landfill property, which benefits all county residents, to help the sheriff, who is also supported by all county residents.
"In summary, I believe the sheriff's request is very much in the public interest and is something that should be permitted," Stapf wrote. "I am therefore recommending this request be approved in concept by the Board of County Commissioners."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.