The shooting range Kane County Sheriff's deputies utilize to fulfill mandated marksmanship qualifications is under 18 inches of water. The entire facility has been off limits for more than a week because lead from old bullets has contaminated the water and mold is forming. Taxpayers will be on the hook for the eventual long- and short-term solutions.
The range is in the lower level of the old sheriff's office on Fabyan Parkway in Geneva. The building has been unused, and unkept, except for the range, since the new jail and sheriff's office opened several years ago.
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The original intent of the county board was to demolish the office and sell the land to help pay for the new jail. That process has stalled because board members elected since that decision have offered other ideas that would keep the property in public hands.
Sheriff Pat Perez told a county board committee Friday he has 242 individuals who, by law, must meet marksmanship requirements in order to wear their badges. Come warmer days, the officers can use the outdoor range. But a long-term indoor solution can't wait much longer, he said.
"Right now, we're homeless," said Perez, who has lamented the conditions of the existing facility ever since the new jail was built without a replacement range.
"If I had the money in my budget to build a range I'd build it today. I don't have it. For crying out loud, we're under water. What else do we have to do to prove to you that there's a necessity?"
Perez pointed to the August shooting spree in New York where officers unintentionally wounded nine bystanders as an example of the liability the county faces if its deputies have poor aim.
"The first thing the attorneys did was pull training records and showed their training was inadequate," Perez said. "We can't ignore the qualifications. It's a huge liability."
Committee members agreed a solution is needed. They suggested partnering with other counties or private companies to secure a temporary training location. Perez said those ideas all mean more overtime expenses for his department as officers travel farther for the training plus the costs of whatever the other facilities will charge the county. The best solution, the committee agreed, is a long-term construction project that includes the build out of the shell spaces at the new jail. A new shooting range could be incorporated into that work. At the same time, the shell spaces will create bed space for the county to house more inmates for federal marshals. Those federal inmates have proved to be a substantial moneymaker for the county in recent years.
Chairman Chris Lauzen said the county should begin calculating cost estimates on that project before Perez' term expires less than two years from now.
"It should involve the qualification range, the build out of the jail and the cost of the demolition," Lauzen said. "And we need to do it now so that we can take advantage of Pat's experience."
Perez will come back next month with a request to seek architectural cost estimates of the project. The overall cost of the jail expansion and shooting range won't be known until that work is complete.