Tarrant County commissioners are putting $11 million in federal COVID relief money toward a plan to renovate and expand an existing law enforcement training center. With plans for the project incomplete, the county estimates the final cost will be about $21 million.
The commissioners court voted 3-2 along party lines for the new funding, with Republicans Manny Ramirez, Tim O’Hare and Gary Fickes voting in favor. The allocation was among several changes to the county’s plan to spend remaining federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, a law passed in 2021 to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
County leaders previously considered constructing a new $50 million training center for the sheriff’s office. In July, after a feasibility study revealed the price tag did not include a firing range and driving track, Ramirez stepped away from the idea of a new stand-alone center. Instead, he suggested, the county should partner with an existing training academy.
Now, Ramirez is focused on planning a partnership with an existing law enforcement academy to leverage and expand the training already available to Tarrant County Sheriff’s trainees. The total estimated cost for that plan is $21 million.
“Ultimately, in my mind, just building a pretty building with the same instructors and the same curriculum, it’s not going to change the culture, and that’s what needs to change,” Ramirez said.
Plans for the new center are not yet final, Ramirez said. Komatsu Architecture is finalizing a revised feasibility study focused on potential partnerships with existing training centers, such as the one at Tarrant County College. The county expects the results of the study to be presented to commissioners in the next few weeks. Commissioners are waiting on details of how such a partnership would operate, Ramirez said.
“The hard work is being done right now to provide those answers to get us to a point where we can make a decision,” Ramirez said.
The funds became available as commissioners voted to approve adjustments to the county’s plan to allocate federal funds. About $34 million was cut from social programs under the new funding plan, and the majority of those funds will go to fund law enforcement programs.
Ramirez and County Judge O’Hare joined with their Democratic colleague Roy Brooks to defend the reallocation, saying funding law enforcement initiatives is not coming at the cost of housing and childcare — although Brooks opposed funding the law enforcement projects generally.
Both Brooks and fellow Democrat commissioner Alisa Simmons opposed promising federal dollars to the training center project before plans are complete and approved by the court. Simmons made a motion to instead set the money aside in a general contingency fund, which failed because of lack of Republican support.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done on this training center … and it’s premature to allocate those funds specifically to something that we don’t know enough about yet,” Simmons said.
The county may not have enough time to spend the $11 million under the restricted timeline of the American Rescue Plan Act, Simmons said. The federal government requires counties to allocate all its ARPA money by 2024 and spend it all by 2026 — or give it back.
If plans for a renovated training center are not feasible within the federal government’s required timeline, Ramirez promised he would reallocate the $11 million and find another way to pay for the training center.
“If it turns out that we cannot meet the time clock on this project for our funding, then absolutely, I think that we need to look for other places to deploy those buckets of money,” Ramirez said.
Some residents spoke out against the reallocation of funds initially slated for housing and childcare during the Sept. 5 meeting, calling the law enforcement training center unnecessary.
“Please reconsider if there are other priorities to spend those $11 million dollars, ” said county resident Jackee Cox.
Both Ramirez and O’Hare repeated that a new training center is vital and long overdue.
“I am very excited about the partnership opportunity that we have,” Ramirez said. “I think that it really is going to be an incredible thing for the community at large, especially for the region and the state.”
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.