Coffin blasts County Commission for More Cops delay

A Las Vegas councilman argues residents in high crime areas of the city are paying the price for the Clark County Commission’s dawdling over a tax increase to hire police officers.

“Our police safety is essentially being held hostage by a majority of the County Commission,” Bob Coffin said. “I’m really worried. If the County Commission doesn’t reverse field here, I worry about the safety of the citizens of this city.”

Coffin’s complaint was about a debate at the county level over a proposal to increase sales taxes to raise money to pay police officers. The increase would raise money for every police department in Southern Nevada, but the major beneficiary would be the Metropolitan Police Department, which covers Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County.

Coffin said that commissioners delaying the increase don’t represent the urban core of the valley where crime rates are highest.

He also questioned whether, if there is a shortage of police protection, the city would receive its fair share of police services. The city funds about 40 percent of the department budget.

“Maybe North Las Vegas and Henderson were right; they didn’t join in,” Coffin said of two cities in the valley that have their own departments instead of sharing a department with the county. “Maybe this experiment isn’t working.”

City officials are frustrated because, although they approved a resolution seeking more funding, the decision is largely out of their hands.

In 2004, voters approved a More Cops initiative that called on the Legislature to authorize a 0.50 percentage point sales tax to hire extra police. The Legislature in 2005 agreed to half of that, or 0.25 percentage points, and postponed a decision on the remaining amount.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie lobbied for support to encourage the Legislature to approve the second 0.25 percentage point increase during its most recent session. Both the County Commission and the City Council passed resolutions supporting the increase.

The Legislature approved a 0.15 percentage point increase, with the caveat that it would also require approval from the County Commission.

Since then the commission has been divided, with Commissioner Tom Collins pushing for the 0.15 level, the maximum amount authorized by the Legislature, and Commissioner Susan Brager calling for a lesser amount of 0.075 and urging the sheriff to spend money from reserves to cover any shortfalls.

The commission has scheduled Oct. 1 public hearings on the funding proposals.

In response to Coffin’s complaints, Brager blamed the Legislature, saying it could have approved the funding that the city, county and voters sought.

“The Legislature could have voted on this,” she said. “It could have been done right up there. They decided to give it to the County Commission.”

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com. follow him on Twitter at @BenSpillman702