Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager, the swing vote on whether to raise the sales tax from 8.1 percent to 8.25 percent, said she has about six questions that Sheriff Doug Gillespie needs to answer before he can win her support.
She said that though she repeatedly voted for resolutions in favor of letting the issue move forward, she told Gillespie weeks ago she was only about 60 percent in favor of the idea to raise taxes to hire “More Cops.”
“I am 100 percent for more cops, but this will not mean more cops,” she said, referring to the second part of a ballot question first passed in 2004.
One key question with conflicting answers is whether the sheriff could use money from a $124 million reserve to fill the $30 million deficit. He says he can’t, she says he can.
Gillespie said at the July 2 commission meeting, and again Wednesday, that the $124 million could be used only to pay for salaries of officers hired with More Cops money since 2005
However, the 2013 Legislature changed that to allow more flexibility in using the new More Cops money, which by rights should be called “Maintaining Cops” money.
If the increase is approved, new money can be used to fill the budget shortfall he faces because property taxes have dipped and the city and county have reduced their funding. The sheriff has revenues of $459 million and expenses of $489 million, mostly salaries, naturally.
There may be confusion about his explanation, but his answer is consistent with what he has said publicly.
Brager insisted lawmakers tell her he can use old money for the deficit. “He just doesn’t want to,” she said.
Conflicting information like that was the reason she asked the commissioners to hold the vote on Tuesday and refused to name any set time to bring the vote back, though he urged the commissioners to set a time for a vote within 60 days so he can build a budget.
“The vote would have been ‘no’ if they had pushed me yesterday,” Brager said Wednesday. Instead it was 6-1 to hold it because even supporters saw it was going down fast.
“For the last 10 days, there have been conflicting emails from constituents asking very honest, very detailed questions,” she said at the meeting.
“People are not against safety, but they want more answers.”
It’s pretty simple, really, from the sheriff’s perspective: Raise the sales tax and preserve the jobs of 250 police officers and add an estimated 100 officers in the future. Or don’t raise the tax and eliminate 250 police officers from a force of about 2,555. Thumbs up or thumbs down. More cops. Maintain cops. Or lose cops.
Gillespie made it clear he can provide a fact sheet or presentation to answer questions.
But he said the answers will be pretty much the same as he has given before.
Yes, some of the money will go to salary increases and pensions even if people think police officers are paid too much and have fat pensions.
Brager and some constituents don’t want the new money going for raises and pensions.
When Brager began calling for town halls at which the sheriff would answer the public’s questions, it looked to me as if the real reason for the delay was to seek political cover, although both Brager and Gillespie dismissed my take.
Even Commissioner Larry Brown, who supports the tax increase, thought town halls would be helpful
Political cover wouldn’t apply to Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, who opposed it as a regressive tax. Nor does it apply to Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who also opposes it, yet wants the tax increase used to put cameras on police officers. Because both are against the tax, the other five must vote for it for the increase to pass.
Commissioner Tom Collins didn’t seek political protection for his open declaration in support of the tax increase. Calculations by numbers cruncher Guy Hobbs estimated that the average person’s tax burden would increase by $22 a year, or 6 cents a day as Collins stressed with his homemade visual of six pennies taped to a piece of paper.
Commissioner Lawrence Weekly won’t need cover because his constituents want more police protection, not less.
That leaves Brager and Scow as the deciding votes. Both were consistent “yes” votes in prior actions involving the proposed sales tax increase. Now we learn it was a half-hearted “yes” by Brager.
Gillespie said he’s willing to be the face of the tax hike.
“We’ve got a good story to tell,” he said. “I can’t tell you of any public speaking engagement in the last year where I haven’t discussed this issue. I’ve spent considerable time talking about the options.”
From Gillespie’s perspective, it’s important that this sales tax increase, which has been approved in concept by the cities, the Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval. But they all wanted the county to do the actual dirty deed of raising the sales tax.
Gillespie didn’t think the flap over six members of the Use of Force Review Board resigning last week influenced the commissioners’ decision. However, Brager said that was one of the issues her constituents brought up with her as among their concerns.
Although Gillespie spoke passionately about the police force before the commissioners, in my interview he was calm and refused to engage in the blame game. Brager was more passionate and aggressive than I’ve ever seen her, feisty and unafraid to say the sheriff’s answers conflict with her information..
It shouldn’t be too long before it’s made clear whose information is correct, once Brager provides her list of questions to Gillespie.
One of them isn’t going to emerge from this flap looking credible.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.