The city of Salina is building the “Cadillac” of law enforcement training facilities, even though the Kansas Highway Patrol’s primary training campus is in the same community, and the state’s premier law enforcement training center is only an hour away.

“The fact is they’re all law enforcement entities and they can share,” said Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican.

Local officials broke ground on a Salina Police Department training facility that encompasses an indoor shooting range, equipment storage space, and a classroom in late August. 

“We should be building the Cadillac of training facilities. We shouldn’t be trying to save money because we’re Salina; we should be building the best building because we are Salina,” Mayor Trent Davis said during an Aug. 19 meeting. That’s the same meeting in which commissioners approved a construction bid that was almost a half-million dollars more than budgeted.

Planning on the shooting range project began in earnest in 2015 with the completion of a training facility study. Initially, officials considered upgrading an existing outdoor facility or attempting to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies like the Kansas Highway Patrol, which hosts its training academy on a Salina campus, or the Saline County Sheriff’s office.

“Imagine a world where every police department has its own training center,” said Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican and outspoken critic of the project. “It’s just kind of silly to have this redundancy in every local government.”

Salina Police Chief Brad Nelson told commissioners the outdoor range was in disrepair. He took officials on a tour of the dilapidated outdoor facility in April 2018.  

“The shooting tower has been condemned, as has the outbuilding police have been using for a gas house. The single toilet has the ability to flush, but they don’t, Nelson said, because for some reason doing so creates a horrendous stink,” a Salina news reporter described the range in a story about the Nelson-led tour.

Officials scrapped the possibility of upgrades to the existing facility after learning it would cost more than $600,000 to fix some water issues on the property.

Other police departments utilize private shooting ranges or state-funded ranges for their officers to maintain certification. In Johnson County, for example, several of the 18 municipal police departments utilize–at no cost to their departments–a Kansas Highway Patrol outdoor range in southern Johnson County. When the weather won’t allow its usage, departments contract with private indoor ranges. There are no private shooting ranges in Salina, though a former Salina police officer and her husband attempted to open a private range and training center. The pair couldn’t get a loan to finance the project, even though they built half of the project.

“Whether it’s a shooting range or an exercise facility, you’re seeing government squeezing out the private sector on a regular basis,” said Dave Trabert, the President of the Kansas Policy Institute. (KPI owns the Sentinel.)

That poses problems not just for entrepreneurs, but for governments.

“A private shooting range would pay property tax. It would pay sales taxes. It would pay income tax,” Trabert said. “When you make it more difficult for them to open, it’s not only wasting money on one end, it’s cutting into the income stream for the government on the other end.”

The 16,000-square foot private facility never got off the ground, due to a shortage of pre-sold memberships, the Salina Journal reported. Meanwhile, other law enforcement agencies, like the Saline County Sheriff’s Office use the Kansas Highway Patrol’s shooting range for some of its ongoing training needs. Meanwhile, the state’s primary law enforcement facility, the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC) is less than one hour away in Hutchinson.

Most municipal, county and state officers acquire their 560-hour initial training through the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. The center doesn’t charge tuition or room and board to city, county and state agencies that utilize their services. Instead, KLETC training is covered by docket fees for criminal and traffic-related court cases in state and district courts and by a $1.25 surcharge on all Kansas vehicle registrations.

“Almost all law enforcement in Kansas goes through there,” Claeys said. “And then there’s ongoing training. The issue is that a lot of that ongoing training is going to a shooting range.”

As planning for the Salina Police Department’s range and training center progressed, Claeys said they added up all of the time that the Kansas Highway Patrol and other entities would use to occupy the same shooting range. 

“During a month, if you have all of these entities combined, it still wouldn’t equal 30 days,” Claeys said. 

Nelson told commissioners that he reached out to the KHP about collaborating on training facilities and the state agency had no interest. Now Salina taxpayers are on the hook for a local police training facility that is already a half-million dollars over initial budget projections. 

“It goes back to having more government units than nearly every state in the union,” Claeys said. “What it does is it ends up being horribly inefficient and duplicating infrastructure across the state.”

Kansas has 1,997 general-purpose governments (cities, counties, and townships), ranking 48th in the nation (the third-worst) for residents per GPG; only South Dakota and North Dakota are worse. The Sunflower State ranks 49th in the number of local government employees per capita, with only Wyoming being worse. 

The costs of the additional governmental units add up. Property tax collections in the city of Salina have risen 102.8% since 1997 and property taxes charged by Saline County jumped 288.7%; both rates are much higher than the rate of population and inflation. At about the same time the Salina commission approved the police training facility project, members adopted a 2020 budget that includes a 1.3205 mill rate increase despite a total valuation increase of 4.27 percent.

Construction on the police training facility began this month, and the project is supposed to be completed in late 2020. Nelson told city commissioners that he anticipates other law enforcement agencies will pay a nominal fee to utilize the Salina Police Department’s facility once it’s finished.

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