The Palm Beach County Shooting Sports Park, soon to be open on the old Mecca Farms property north of The Acreage, was a point of discussion Monday, June 10 during the Palm Beach County Commission’s first workshop on the budget for fiscal year 2019-20.
District 3 Commissioner Dave Kerner commented on his support of the shooting range, which is in Commissioner Hal Valeche’s District 1, although it is accessed through Commissioner Melissa McKinlay’s District 6.
The county’s Tourist Development Council recently rejected the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s request for $3 million to be funded through bed tax money for a clubhouse at the facility.
“I do not mean to step on the toes of Commissioner McKinlay, but it speaks to the Florida Wildlife Commission’s joint effort to build a firearms range and safety range in the western part of our county, and I’ve had some preliminary conversations with our county administrator,” Kerner said. “I will concede here that I will give total deference to my colleague, Commissioner McKinlay, on what is important to her and what she would like to see in her district or not, but for those who have followed my public safety and public service, whether as a police officer or as a lawmaker or here today as a county commissioner, I’ve never had objections to the concept of the Second Amendment. My objections have been to a total lack of firearms training and safety processes.”
Kerner said a facility like the shooting sports park, in partnership with the FWC, the county and the South Florida Water Management District, speaks to the types of relationships that he believes are possible in the next generation of governments.
“Perhaps we could speak about that at some point, but I worked on this personally, and I was stunned to see that our TDC advisory board advise unanimously against it despite the pretty forceful letters of support from some members of this county commission,” Kerner said. “I do understand there are some intertwining issues of ad valorem and bed tax, things of that nature, but while we’re talking about budgets, it would be incumbent upon me to bring this issue up today and put it on the county administrator’s radar.”
McKinlay responded by voicing her support for funding the shooting center facility.
“I am not a gun owner, but I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, and this isn’t just a firearms training facility,” she said. “This has the capability of becoming a world-class Olympic qualifier facility. It is an FWC project. It was funded by the legislature. They’re doing some private funding through the FWC Foundation to help some of the facilities that they are building there, and they made a request through the TDC for some funding.”
McKinlay acknowledged that the FWC’s request of $3 million is rather large.
“I brought it up when I asked [TDC Executive Director Glenn] Jergensen to give some consideration to projects outside of beaches and baseball in Palm Beach County,” she said. “I have been arguing back and forth with him on his determination that this project will not bring in… visitors from outside the county. I vehemently disagree with him on that. If you look at Pine Creek up in Okeechobee County, you know that most of the people using that facility are not from Okeechobee County.”
McKinlay added that Pine Creek holds frequent fundraisers for charities across the state that come into that facility and provide tourism dollars to Okeechobee County.
“I would love to see some contributions. I believe the request was for assistance in helping build the clubhouse, but there is also a conversation going between the county, the FWC and the water management district,” McKinlay said. “The road to that facility is not paved. It is a dirt road not in fantastic condition, so perhaps there’s a partnership there that could happen in getting that road paved.”
She added that she did not want to give the impression to the public that the project is not being constructed.
“It is, and it’s beautiful, and I’m sure that they will be open sometime soon,” McKinlay said. “They just may not have all the facilities that they’re hoping, but they certainly are under active construction. I do see that facility being open, hopefully, by the end of the year.”
Kerner said he was glad to hear that McKinlay supported the shooting range project.
“This is the appropriate venue and forum for me to be having a conversation with her about something that we would potentially be voting on at some point in time,” Kerner said. “I am truly delighted to hear of your support of this project and your perspective that it is not just about firearms or firearms safety, but that it is truly a world-class facility that will draw tourism to Palm Beach County. I was born and raised in this county, and I am not a beach guy. That’s not my thing. I am a sports guy, and there is a whole chapter to this county with resources that are as forgotten by people outside of this county, even inside this county, that we have to offer. There is more to offer to our tourists and to our constituents than just the beach.”
Kerner said that firearm safety is important to him, and he would remain committed to fight for a paved road to the new shooting range. He asked the other commissioners to visit the new facility.
“I want it in its best possible format to provide the most services to our young men and women who want to learn to use firearms safely,” Kerner said. “This is a world-class facility, and I hope that we will not let politics intertwine this conversation. I know that my colleagues will not, but I suspect that that has been part of this process.”
He suggested other ways of funding the necessary work.
“If bed tax money is not going to be available, then I am going to fight for ad valorem money to be available for this,” Kerner said. “I am delighted to hear of the positive comments that I have read from my colleagues on the county commission that interacted with the TDC on this issue, and you cannot have a world-class facility without having a road to it, and the road to it is unacceptable.”
Kerner pointed out that right across the road from the shooting range is the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area with facilities where young children can get in a canoe and sleep out in the woods. “That’s part of what the real Florida is,” he said.
The upcoming county budget proposes to keep the tax rate at 4.7815 mills, the same rate that it has been the past nine years. With property value increases, that means the county property tax on a $227,000 median value home would increase about $13.