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story.lead_photo.caption Springdale city hall.

SPRINGDALE -- The City Council unanimously approved buying a local pistol range for use by the city's Police Department after assuring three objecting residents the deal would take no city money out of efforts to fight the covid-19 pandemic.

Mayor Doug Sprouse blamed himself for earlier incorrect reports the range was being purchased, in part, by federal taxpayer money intended for covid relief. "I'll take the blame for that," Sprouse said at the meeting.

The $600,000 for the purchase will come from the city's general fund. None of that will come out of the $902,000 in federal taxpayer money sent to the city government to fight covid, he assured the council and audience member present.

But resident Geronimo Camillo told the council buying a pistol range while a worsening pandemic ravaged city residents was a misplaced priority wherever the money came from. "We are dying out here," he told the council. More testing and faster testing to track the disease is urgently needed, he said. Camillo and two others asked for more public hearings, at least, before the city proceeded with this purchase.

Sturm's Indoor Gun Range includes 8,000 square-foot building on its five acre site at 511 Old Wire Road. The property's appraised value is $845,000, Sprouse told the council.

The timing of the purchase is unrelated to covid-19, Sprouse and Police Chief Mike Peters said after the meeting. Both said range owner Steve Strum recently offered to sell the city the property for far less than the appraised value but requested a quick answer.

The city has sought a target practice range for years but the need became much more urgent after the covid outbreak, Peters told the council. Occupancy restrictions forced by the disease led to waits as long as six months before an officer could use the firing range at the nearby state Law Enforcement Training Academy site. The department requires demonstrated firearm proficiency every six months for its officers. Meeting that requirement is already becoming difficult because of constricted firing range accessibility, Peters said.

The indoor firing range being bought will need expanding so officers can also qualify with rifles, Peters told the council. But there is room on the property for that expansion. Also, the range includes indoor space for classrooms for other training, he said.

In other business the council approved an $8.2 road project along 64th Street with expansion and other improvements from Watkins Avenue to U.S. 412. The spending on that project drew no objections.

Sprouse announced a record month in sales tax collection to the council for September. The city collected $1.56 million in September, a 9.4% increase from the same month last year, he announced to the council at the end of the meeting. He thanked city residents for supporting local business during the ongoing pandemic.

The council also discussed plans to become the second city in Arkansas, after Benton in central Arkansas' Saline County, to allow the Safe Haven Baby Box charity to place one of their emergency installations at a Springdale fire station. Plans, including which station will receive it, are being worked out, the council was told. The "baby box" is a secure location where a newborn child can be placed in a dire emergency where the mother cannot take care of her child. It's considered a last resort alternative to abandonment, the council was told.

Doug Thompson can be reached by email at dthompson@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWADoug.

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