The Clark County Commission sent two clear directives Tuesday to the entities it oversees: First, if you've got it, spend it. Second, do unto others as they have done unto you.
Still reluctant to pull the trigger on the kinds of budget cuts needed to make county government sustainable in the years ahead, commissioners directed staff to explore raiding the Metropolitan Police Department's $84 million in reserves to preserve as much payroll as possible.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie, the department's supervisors and rank-and-file officers have sacrificed through an unrelenting economic downturn, slashing spending, making salary and benefit concessions and eliminating vacant positions to cut the agency's budget by nearly $50 million over three years. Mr. Gillespie had proposed using $33 million of those reserves in next fiscal year's $501 million budget.
Meanwhile, county leaders continue to complain and lobby to prevent the Legislature from swiping county property taxes to shore up the state's 2011-13 spending plan.
The message to Carson City: Keep your hands off our money. The message to the sheriff: What's yours is ours.
Principle has left the building, with frugality and fiscal responsibility close behind. Anyone who undertakes the hard work of cutting spending, limiting salary growth and making do with less now knows those labors will eventually benefit the less diligent and accountable. Dysfunction is rewarded.
Commissioners signed off Tuesday on 2 percent pay cuts for almost 7,000 employees -- when their base pay has, on average, increased about 13 percent over the past three years despite free-falling tax collections. This "concession" preserves annual merit pay raises of up to 4 percent for about 70 percent of workers, as well as longevity increases for senior employees. If the commission goes forward with the taking of police reserves, the money won't preserve essential county services. It will subsidize next year's pay raises.
When every tax dollar is precious at every level of government, such naked, desperate displays of power should be expected. Every available dollar should be used for the most productive purpose possible. Transferring police funding to the county doesn't accomplish that.
Instead, why don't commissioners put Mr. Gillespie in charge of paring back the county's budget and negotiating with its unions? He's clearly better at it than they are.