The Manassas City Council declined to add a potentially troublesome levy on city taxpayers last evening, instead raising the overall tax rate slightly from 81.5 cents to 85.5 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value. The levy was intended to raise revenue so that a firing range for the Manassas City Police Department could be built, since there isn’t an existing facility for their use, other ranges in the area are booked solid, and when the city can find range time elsewhere in Virginia it’s often far away, which incurs significant travel costs in addition to the time involved in having officers travel to an available range instead of being available for duty. There are some hard choices here.
Complicating the matter is the mechanism for raising revenue. If the overall tax rate is raised, more than half of the money would go to the school system under the current revenue sharing agreement, and while the schools can use every penny they can get, this circumstance doubles the size of any tax raise required. Some either mis-used the term “levy” when they really didn’t mean to, or weren’t aware that it’s not legally possible for the city to avoid that diversion of funds by creating a special levy to fund the police, so for a while there was some discussion about adding an extra fee on resident’s tax bills. In a rare case of journalistic professionalism, Manassas Journal-Messenger Kipp Hanley does a pretty decent job of digging into the story and explaining the legal issues involved. The end result is that there’s currently no way to establish a new fee where all of the revenues are dedicated to closing this gap.
City Councilman Andy Harrover has discussed the idea of a public-private partnership to build and operate a firing range in Manassas, which is an interesting idea to explore for a number of reasons. It probably would cost the city a lot less to help support a public range, and obtain blocks of time where the facility would be reserved for use by police officers for the certifications, firearms training, and general marksmanship practice, than it would be to try to build a facility using scare public funds while budgets are tight. A commercial facility available for public use would provide a valuable and increasingly scare resource for area residents, especially when you consider that Shooter’s Paradise in Woodbridge went up in flames a few weeks ago. If a strong business model could be built, it’s also possible that the facility would be larger, offer special training opportunities beyond the usual standing and firing at a paper target 10 yards downrange, and effectively leverage the needs and resources of the community at large along with those of the police department to provide more value for both.
It also would be fascinating to see Chief Skinner contemplate sharing a training facility with VCDL members, who would certainly comprise a significant proportion of the customers of any such facility. I’ll bet a year down the road, Philip Van Cleave and Chief Skinner would be best buddies, and VCDL members would be competing in shooting matches with officers of the police department with the losers buying the pizza at Tony’s for the after-match get-together. Perhaps such a possibility is why we’re not hearing anything more about this idea, though.
The Police Department is in a real bind here, and the city doesn’t have the money to solve the problem any time soon. This would be a good time for an entrepreneur to step up and figure out a way for something like this to work, and demonstrate that private enterprise or public-private partnerships are pretty good at solving problems where there’s a defined capability somewhere in the vicinity of a demonstrated need.
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