Commissioners to decide between two different More Cops tax hikes

Clark County commissioners will face dueling sales tax increase proposals in October, both with the same goal of providing money for police officers in the county.

The key difference between the two More Cops proposals introduced Tuesday is their tax rates: Commissioner Susan Brager’s compromise proposal is a 0.075 percentage point increase in the sales tax, while Commissioner Tom Collins’ proposal is a 0.15 percentage point increase.

For Sheriff Doug Gillespie, it’s another step in the process that started earlier this year, when he lobbied the Nevada Legislature to grant the county authority for a 0.25 percentage point, or quarter-cent, increase in the sales tax. Instead, lawmakers pared that down to a 0.15 percentage point limit.

Gillespie said Tuesday he’ll continue talking with commissioners to reach a consensus. Speaking to reporters, he didn’t give a number he’s willing to support for a compromise, but also stressed that he believes the original 0.25 percentage point increase he initially backed is still necessary.

Public hearings and votes on both proposals are scheduled for Oct. 1.

A sticking point among county officials is rooted in the Metropolitan Police Department’s account that collects revenue from an initial 0.25 percentage point sales tax for officers that started in 2005. That tax was assessed after county residents voted for a nonbinding measure to support a 0.50 percentage point sales tax increase for cops. The Legislature, in turn, granted county commissioners the authority to go after half that amount.

That money is being used to pay for about 520 Las Vegas police officers. That tax expires in 2025. The money in that account has reached about $124 million, but the sheriff has been reluctant to dip into that account to patch budget shortfalls.

Under Brager’s proposed 0.075 percentage point increase, Gillespie would need to apply $15 million to the department’s projected $30 million shortfall from the existing More Cops sales tax account.

The proposed tax would generate about $24 million annually, $17 million going to the Metropolitan Police Department. The rest would go to other local police departments in the county.

That would leave the department with a $15 million budget gap for the city and county to face when planning the next budget cycle, which starts July 1, 2014.

When asked if he can use that money, Gillespie said: “If we have to, yes we can.”

He added: “I think this is a short-term rather than a long-term solution.”

Brager said her proposal would pay for about 125 officers and is fair, noting the existing More Cops account will have $26 million remaining in 2025.

She didn’t make any predictions about whether the sheriff would support the pared-down version.

“It’s absolutely in the sheriff’s hands at this point,” she said.

She also noted that in a future year, the 0.075 percentage point increase could still be increased to 0.15 percentage points if the budget picture was bleak.

In October, commissioners could first vote on the larger increase and then move on to Brager’s proposal if the first one fails.

For Collins’ part, he said the state law was passed allowing the 0.15 percentage point increase after the commission already supported a 0.25 percentage point increase. He has backed the 0.15 percent increase, saying it’s needed for public safety. In a recent meeting, he held up a card with pennies taped to it to illustrate the proposed tax increase’s impact on a consumer.

“It’s all that is allowed,” he said of his proposal’s tax amount.

As for how much luck Collins will have swaying his colleagues, “You’ll have to attend the meeting,” he said. “I’m going to keep my powder dry on this one.”

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.