Las Vegas police budget approved; slightly bigger than last year

For the first time in four years, the Metropolitan Police Department's budget is on the rise.

The agency's Committee on Fiscal Affairs on Monday unanimously approved the 2012-2013 budget of $502 million, which is slightly higher than last year's $501 million budget.

The Fiscal Affairs Committee is composed of two Las Vegas City Council members, two county commissioners and an independent member.

The last time the Police Department's budget went up was in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, when it went to $549 million. The budget remained the same the next year before being cut in the next two fiscal years.

The agency will use $43.5 million in reserve funds and $12.2 million from unused capital funds to cover funding shortages in the coming budget year, including an $8.3 million drop in property tax revenues.

The Police Department's operating budget would have been closer to $515 million, but $12.8 million in contributions to cover liability insurance and workers compensation from Clark County and the city of Las Vegas will go directly to those funds instead of being included in the budget. The contributions are being made that way because the county has a surplus, and government accounting rules prevent the surplus from being used in the operating budget, said Karen Keller, the agency's chief financial officer.

That contribution will return to the operating budget in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The rising costs in the coming fiscal year were largely because of the liability insurance and workers' compensation costs. The agency's personnel costs, which account for 87 percent of the budget, fell slightly because of union negotiations and replacing retired officers at the top of the pay scale with new officers who make less, Keller said.

The newest two-year contract for the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents about 2,300 rank-and-file officers, eliminated longevity pay for new hires, cut longevity pay in half for current members and lowered merit raises to 1 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second year, down from 4 percent.

Despite the budget cuts in recent years, the agency has not laid off any workers during that time.

"Layoffs is not in my vocabulary," said Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who heads the state's largest police agency.

The agency has cut more than 500 positions in the past four years, including 238 police officers, through retirements and other vacancies. The new budget includes only five position cuts.

The agency has 2,700 police officers, 549 of whom are funded by the More Cops sales tax, which is not included in the operating budget.

The Police Department has weathered the recent budget cuts and revenue shortfalls by cutting costs and amassing a reserve fund to plug the holes and reduce the amounts paid by Clark County and the city of Las Vegas, which together fund about 60 percent of the operating budget.

The current fiscal year budget took $44 million from reserves, and the next budget will use another $45 million, leaving just $5 million by this time next year to help cover a projected budget deficit of $68 million.