DADE CITY — What's one way to lure more tourists to Pasco? Commissioner Henry Wilson thinks part of the answer could be a gun range.
Wilson on Tuesday floated the idea of partnering with a private company to build an expanded range for sheriff's deputies that could also host tournaments.
"We cutting, we're cutting and we're cutting, but we're not trying to generate more revenue," he said, citing shortfalls in the county parks department.
Current gun ranges in Pasco, he said, are roughly 50 to 75 yards long. But rifle shooters need at least 100 yards, and some tournaments require up to 1,000-yard facilities.
Attracting tournaments, he said, "could generate some dollars for (the parks) so they don't have to do as many cuts."
Wilson said he identified three possible locations, including the Cross Bar Ranch at State Road 52 and U.S. 41, the Serenova environmental tract and an expansion of the Tampa Bay Sporting Clays range in Land O'Lakes.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she was concerned about putting the range in Serenova, noting that environmentalists and equestrian enthusiasts are "adamantly opposed" to a separate proposal to expand hunting in that area.
But Commissioner Ted Schrader suggested another site: the Connerton development. He said that it would be ideal because it is close to the county jail and already near other noisy activities such as Pilot Country airport and a go kart track.
Besides hosting tournaments, Wilson said the 200- to 300-acre range would give sheriff's deputies a place to practice. He cited the closing of the Pasco-Hernando Community College range at Gowers Corner.
But PHCC spokeswoman Lucy Miller said that range hasn't been used for nearly 10 years. When the college built a new facility at its Dade City campus for law enforcement training, it decommissioned the range in central Pasco. That was in 2002.
The Dade City campus now operates with a gun range, driving course and other training facilities for officers.
Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said that PHCC range "is kind of out of the way for a lot of our deputies, and we have to go back their schedule."
He said the agency currently uses it for annual certifications of officers. The new range would give deputies more flexibility for when they can stop by for routine training.
The proposal is just beginning to take form. Wilson said the next step is settling on a site, adding he will look closely at Connerton. Afterward, the county would formally solicit private companies to operate the facility.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said he liked the idea but wanted to make sure it didn't require a property tax subsidy from the county.
"What I don't want to do is to have any dollars committed to a gun range when we can't seem to put the money toward funding our parks," Mariano said.
Wilson said he understood those concerns and said the private operator would shoulder most of the costs. He said he was exploring using tourist tax money to build the facility because it could bring in more tourism.
"We're not going to do this by burdening the taxpayers," Wilson said.
Wilson said the county also could win some federal Homeland Security money because the range would serve law enforcement.
In other news, Pasco commissioners:
• Put off deciding the fate of the last two county-owned swimming pools until next week.
Parks director Rick Buckman presented an agreement with a club team to take over operations of the pool at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex. The deal would save the county roughly $120,000, but keeping the pool open at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson would cost $140,000. Several commissioners seemed open to the agreement with the Land O'Lakes Lightning, but Commissioner Pat Mulieri worried about the costs of keeping the Veterans pool open.
"Where are we going to get the money?" she said. "Our other parks programs are going to suffer."
Commissioners will take up the issue next Tuesday at a budget workshop in New Port Richey.
• Approved closing down westbound traffic on a portion of Main Street in New Port Richey so crews can widen the road. The section from Wardwell Street to Rowan Road would be closed for about eight months. Access to the post office would remain open for both directions.