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Sisolak proposes giving Metro $5 million to hire police officers

The Metropolitan Police Department could get a $5 million boost to its budget beyond what Las Vegas and Clark County officials have tentatively planned for the next fiscal year.

County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said Wednesday that the county has enough funding to help increase the department’s $511 million budget by another $5 million for 47 more officers.

Sisolak made his comments during the county’s budget meeting. He hadn’t talked to the city about the idea yet. For the proposal to happen, the city would need to contribute roughly $1.6 million of the $5 million, as the city and county share the costs of the department.

That increase would allow the department to hire about 98 more officers when combined with existing budget plans.

But Las Vegas Mayor Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who wasn’t at the meeting, didn’t welcome the idea of digging into the city’s coffers to find $1.6 million, taking from other budgets to fund 47 additional police officers.

She said the people voted for a sales tax increase and the Legislature authorized it and that’s what should be.

“The public said do it as a sales tax,” she said in an interview.

Goodman’s been a strong supporter of raising the sales tax to provide more officers and enhance public safety — one of the city’s top priorities.

“We should do what the people said,” she said.

County Sheriff Doug Gillespie appeared surprised by Sisolak’s suggestion.

“I’m sort of at a loss,” he said at the meeting.

The new fiscal year starts July 1.

In the past year, commissioners have considered raising the sales tax by varying levels to pay for more police officers, but have been unable to muster enough votes for the second “More Cops” measures to pass.

Sisolak, who has been a reliable vote against raising the sales tax, said that adding the $5 million is a good alternative as it would put officers on the street without hiking taxes.

Without the additional $5 million, Metro’s budget would increase to $511 million from $489 million, allowing it to hire 51 officers and have a total force of 2,606 officers. The department has slashed 426 officer positions through attrition in the recession amid declining revenues.

The city and county are increasing their contributions to Metro’s budget without adding the $5 million. For the $511 million budget, both entitles are chipping in an additional $25.2 million compared to last year — $17.6 million from the county and $7.6 million from the city.

In an interview, Gillespie said he welcomed the possibility, but cautioned that it’s far from a done deal.

“I think that would be a good thing, but I also think that before anyone can assume or believe that that’s going to occur there has to be a discussion with the city of Las Vegas,” Gillespie said.

Commissioners at the meeting also expressed a concern about Metro’s recent shift to no longer responding to and writing reports for non-injury auto accidents.

“I would want to see more officers out on the street,” Commissioner Susan Brager said.

Gillespie said the department’s change in that direction is still being evaluated as it moves forward and the public continues to be educated about it.

Hiring more officers shouldn’t be done with a specific task in mind for them, Gillespie said, adding that deployment of officers requires the department’s leadership to constantly evaluate criminal activity patterns and other factors.

With academy training, any increase in officers on the street is more than a year away, if the $5 million comes through. Gillespie said the new positions would be uniformed police officers.

Goodman faulted three commissioners who have stonewalled passage of the sales tax increase — Sisolak and Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Brager.

“There have been three people who put us in jeopardy,” Goodman said.

Taking money from one bucket that provides for parks, the homeless, veterans and other city needs to fund one year for 47 police officers is not what she wants to do. The city has belt-tightened and laid off workers to keep a balanced budget. “I’d love to hire back people,” she said.

“The solution is right there,” she said.

If the parties somehow broker a deal over Goodman’s objections, they’ll need to move quickly. The Police Department’s budget needs to be finalized in April.

The first-year cost for each officer is $105,633, which includes salaries, training and new equipment.

Review-Journal writer Jane Ann Morrison contributed to this report. Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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