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Carter Co. committee hears requests for new rifle range, increased library funding

John Thompson • Nov 3, 2015 at 9:34 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The Landfill Committee of the Carter County Commission heard a proposal Monday night from state Rep. John Holsclaw and range expert Freddie Taylor to use 18 acres of otherwise unusable land in the landfill for a world-class shooting range. The committee reconvened as the Education Committee to hear from Renita Barksdale, director of the Elizabethton/​Carter County Public Library, about the lack of funding the county gives the library.

Holsclaw and Taylor told the Landfill Committee that federal funds are available to develop a world-class shooting range, including a 200-meter rifle range, 100-meter rifle range, pistol range, and skeet and trap ranges. Taylor said the money would come from an excise tax the federal government places on every rifle and pistol, box of ammunition sold in the United States.

Taylor said the sale of guns has grown steadily in recent years, creating a windfall in the excise tax funds. He said several Southern states have already taken advantage of the windfall to build ranges, with Greene County being a good example.

Holsclaw said the Greene County facility cost about $1.2 million. He said the local government must provide a 25 percent match, and that could be on land and improvements for the facility. The Greene County range is 48 acres, while the one in Carter County would be about 18 acres.

Taylor, who has 42 years of experience in operating ranges, including his service in the Marine Corps, where he was safety officer on the largest range in the world. He said the range could be operated by volunteers, including retired military and police officers.

Taylor also said the range would be a wonderful opportunity for youngsters. He said local high schools could develop rifle and skeet teams, and there were opportunities for scholarships. He said youngsters who are involved in ranges develop into people with strong character.

Landfill Manager Benny Colbaugh said he was in favor of the range, but he would like to have a different access road for the range that was away from the landfill scales and operations in the front of the property. A possible solution is to improve the access road to Judge Ben Allen Road and to provide fencing and gates to separate the different activities.

Richard Whitson, manager of the Division of Solid Waste Management at the Johnson City Field Office of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said there was a concern about lead from the spent rounds. Taylor said the range would comply with requirements to recover the lead before it can cause pollution problems.

Holsclaw said he would like to have the grant proposal completed this year, but the committee wanted to study the Greene County range before making a final decision. The committee voted unanimously to study the matter.

Barksdale told the Education Committee that 90 percent of the people using the library are county residents. Although only 10 percent of the library users are city residents, Barksdale said the city contributes $438,000 annually while the county only contributes $31,000.

Barksdale said that for every dollar the city provides to the library, the county provides only 7 cents.

“How do you expect me to run a library on that?” Barksdale asked.

She said libraries provide valuable services to the community, including toddlers who have not learned to read, schoolchildren doing their homework, young adults, families and the elderly.

She said the librarians are trained to help those people, but these days there are homeless women and children, people who have no food, also coming to the library for help.

Barksdale said she would like to hire someone who has dual credentials as a librarian and a social worker.

Barksdale said there is also a need to establish branches in Roan Mountain and Little Milligan, where many people need library services but are not able to make the 45-minute drive frequently.

Lilo Duncan of the Friends of the Library said Barksdale’s plea for funding is nothing new.

“It has been going on since 1990,” Duncan said, “I am a county resident, I don’t live in the city, and I am embarrassed.”

Mayor Leon Humphrey said the requests Barksdale made have been a part of the budget process in each of the past five years.

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