Shooting range funding, 2007 Special Session

On 5/11/2007, the House Appropriations Committee took testimony about the state budget, House Bill 2.

Representative Jack Wells (R-Bozeman) asked Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Jeff Hagener why funding for shooting ranges was not more generous.

Hagener responded:

"Over the last -- since 1991 when this program was instituted we have authorized and spent $1.5 million on shooting ranges.  The actual average for that biennium over that time frame has been $171,000.  The highest ever that we've had an appropriation for was $320,000.  In all but two years during that biennium, we have not had enough grant requests to spend all the money.  Only in two years have we actually exceeded that amount.  So we're looking at the 266,000 amount is an amount that fits within the context of what we've spent in the past on that."

"We have never -- any grant that has come in has either been funded in that given year or was funded in the next year.  So it isn't like we've had a great excess of grants that have not gotten funded.  There have been some that didn't.  They came back a second time.  But in the long run, if we shift around and start putting more money into that, it puts an issue on the overall budget."  MP3 audio file of Hagener's comments is HERE.

Shooting range funding HISTORY, 1991 to 2007 (MSWord, .doc file)

Note:  Director Hagener claims FWP has spent $1.5 million on shooting ranges since 1991, but also that FWP had rarely been able to expend all the funds the Legislature appropriates.  Since 1991, the Legislature has appropriated $1,486,884 for shooting ranges.

Note further:  If the Legislature has appropriated $1.48M for ranges since 1991 and FWP has spent $1.5M since 1991, what truth can there be to the testimony by Director Hagener that FWP is rarely able to expend all the money the Legislature appropriates?

Note further yet:  FYI (05/11/2007), FWP currently has $450,000 in shooting range grant applications waiting for funding.  Director Hagener testified that $266,000 will satisfy current demand for range funding.


Also see - Montana law, the Shooting Range Development Act, says:

87-1-279. Program rules. (1) The department may not use more than 15% of the program funds for administration.
    (2)  The department shall develop a simple application procedure and accountability system.
    (3)  The department shall make every effort to expend or obligate funds for shooting range improvement grants within the year for which they are appropriated.
    (4)  The department shall prioritize grant applications according to those that provide facilities for the greatest number of shooters, that accommodate the use of a combination of hunting arms, and that meet other criteria established by the department.
    (5)  The department may not grant more than 30% of the eligible funds for the establishment or improvement of any single facility in any year.
    (6)  The department shall promote the use of publicly owned land for shooting range facilities. The department may negotiate with federal, state, and local agencies to encourage land trades, shared or specific use designations, and other mechanisms to provide land for shooting range facilities.

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Text of my email to Director Hagener - June 5, 2007

Jeff Hagener, Director
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Dear Jeff,

Greetings from Missoula.

Now that Governor Schweitzer has signed House Bill 2 from the Special Session, we are finally certain that the level of funding for the Shooting Range Development Program (SRDP) is at the level we requested from the Legislature.  Now, we wonder how FWP will implement the utilization of this funding at a higher level than FWP had planned.

Ron Aasheim has explained to me that FWP feels constrained by promises he says have been made to the Governor and the Legislature to hold off subsequent license fee increases until 2011.  This agreement, coupled with the increased SRDP funding, Ron says, will necessitate FWP reductions in other FWP spending areas.  Ron asked for suggestions about what other spending FWP could consider for reduction.  My only suggestion is that FWP compare income and expenditures between hunting and fishing programs.  If one is financially carrying or subsidizing the other, then the one being subsidized would be logical candidate for reduction (I consider the SRDP to be within the hunting arena, not the fishing arena).

I understand that FWP currently has about $453,000 in pending and valid requests for SRDP grants.  The Legislature appropriated $450,000 for the SRDP for Fiscal Year 2008, and another $450,000 for FY 2009.  Plus, I understand that there is another $100,000 for the SRDP in the FWP "Base" budget.

I presume FWP plans to flush through the funding of the pending applications as soon as the money becomes available on July 1, 2007.  If that is correct, then the only remaining questions is how and through what process FWP will utilize the remaining $550,000.

I recommend that FWP announce very soon that it will be reopening the application process for the SRDP, either by a date specific and soon, or as soon as applicants can prepare and submit applications (with no date specific).

It may be worth refreshing memories about a provision in state law, enacted as a part of the Shooting Range Development Act:  "87-1-279.  Program rules.  (3)  The department shall make every effort to expend or obligate funds for shooting range improvement grants within the year for which they are appropriated."

If the $100,000 in the FWP Base is split evenly between FY 2008 and 2009, that would leave FWP an additional $47,000 to expend during FY 2008 (after the $453,000 pending), and $500,000 to expend in FY 2009.  The more time applicants can be given to prepare applications for the FY 2009 availability, the better.

Ron was candid enough with me to admit that one of the options being evaluated by FWP is to not spend the funds appropriated by the Legislature for shooting ranges, after pending applications are satisfied.  This does not appear to be a viable option as it would seem to be a violation of 87-1-279.  The Legislature is the voice of the people.  The people, via the Legislature, have determined that $1,000,000 of hunter license dollars be spent on the SRDP this biennium.  Therefore, it is highly recommended that the option to spend SRDP money on other programs, or not spend it at all, be dropped from consideration by FWP.

As soon as FWP determines how it will proceed with solicitation of further SRDP applications, please let me know and MSSA will help spread that information.  If you are interested, MSSA has accumulated quite a bit of information about Montana Shooting Ranges, including the SRDP, on our Website, at:

http://www.mtssa.org

I would be pleased to discuss any of this with you if that would be helpful.

Sincerely,

Gary Marbut, president
Montana Shooting Sports Association
http://www.mtssa.org
author, Gun Laws of Montana
http://www.mtpublish.com


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Director Hagener's reply - June 15, 2007 (PDF file)

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FWP Range Program letter text, June 19, 2007 (MSWord version)

(Note the last line:  "FWP will continue to accept grant proposals until May 1, 2008. At that time FWP will make a decision whether or not to award additional grants.")

(Additional note:  The author of this letter, Kurt Cunningham, is the FWP employee who actually administers the Shooting Range Development Program.  He works for Director Hagener and must do as Hagener directs.  I'm sure Kurt's letter [below] was vetted by FWP administration before it was sent. Cunningham has always been friendly to the SRDP, unlike some other FWP personnel.)

1420 East Sixth Avenue
Helena MT 59620
June 19, 2007


Dear Shooting Range and Sportsmen’s Club Members,

Many of you may have heard about recent legislation dealing with Montana’s Shooting Range Grants Program.  Because of your interest, I wanted to update you on those actions, but first a brief bit of background that might be helpful.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has administered a Shooting Range Grants Program since 1990. The program provides 1 to 1 matching grants to shooting organizations.  In the first 18 years of the program (through 2007) nearly 1.5 million dollars have been awarded for over 100 projects at over 50 sites.  State matching dollars come from the general hunting and fishing license account managed by FWP.

State matching dollars, authorized by Montana's Legislature have ranged from 119,000 to 320,000 biennially or for a 2-year period.  Typically requests have roughly equaled dollars authorized, although in the last two bienniums, requests did exceed available funding.

The 2007 Legislature authorized 1 million dollars for the 2008-2009 biennium.  FWP has received eligible requests with matching dollars available from 20 organizations totaling roughly $450,000; we will award those grants shortly to allow projects to begin. 

FWP very much appreciates the value and benefits that Montana's shooting range program brings to Montana’s hunting community.  FWP nonetheless faces a serious financial dilemma.

With the approval of a resident fee increase in 2005 the Legislature and Governor instructed FWP to limit expenditures and growth to preclude the need for another general license fee increase until at least the 2011 session.  That means FWP must sustain existing programs until then with projected income.

The dilemma, which FWP faces, relates to the fact that spending authorized for Shooting Range Grants by the 2007 Legislature is roughly 3 times what FWP had anticipated. Based on current projections, if we spend the remaining $550,000 that were authorized by the 2007 Legislature on shooting ranges we would need to cut other programs or potentially request a fee increase earlier than instructed.

Given this financial situation, FWP will have to monitor income and expenditures throughout the coming fiscal year (July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008) before making a final decision on whether to spend the additional  $550,000 authorized.  

So what does this mean?   FWP will continue to accept grant proposals until May 1, 2008. At that time FWP will make a decision whether or not to award additional grants.

If you have questions please give me a call at 444-1267.


Kurt Cunningham
FWP Shooting Range Grant Coordinator