Clark County commissioners could consider sales tax hike as soon as November

It’s unclear whether Clark County commissioners will have the supermajority needed to raise the county’s sales tax to hire more Metro police officers, but they might begin discussing the move as soon as early November.

The Nevada Legislature, meeting in a special session, passed a bill Thursday authorizing the commission to raise the tax by one-tenth of a percentage point. At least five of the seven commissioners must vote for the tax increase before it can go into effect.

Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she’ll likely vote in favor of raising the tax to increase public safety.

“That is a funding mechanism I’m comfortable with,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve always supported it.”

Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Mary Beth Scow also appear to favor the proposal.

“I think we all agree safety is an issue especially in our tourist-based economy, so I’m very supportive,” Scow said.

The sales tax increase would generate about $39 million each year. That would fund the hiring and equipping of 66 new officers for the Las Vegas resort corridor and 245 new officers countywide. The bill has no sunset clause, according to Sisolak.

Sisolak said Sheriff Joseph Lombardo wants the commission to begin discussions about the tax increase soon.

“Hopefully we’ll get it on the first meeting (agenda) of November” for discussion, Sisolak said. “And then vote on it during the second meeting of November.”

Lombardo championed the bill, saying that crime in the county is up 14 percent overall.

The additional funding is crucial for the county to reach a targeted ratio of 2 officers per 1,000 residents, Lombardo has said. The ratio is just above 1.7 this year.

In September 2015, county commissioners passed a 0.05-percentage point increase to the county’s sales tax rate for more cops. But it had taken the commission since 2013 to get the supermajority vote necessary to pass that tax increase.

This time around, some commissioners remain wary about using sales tax as a funding mechanism.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said it would be regressive.

“The sales tax is too narrow and it impacts our fixed-income families and middle class more than anybody else, and I just don’t agree with that as a tax policy,” she said. “I’ll listen in to the discussion when it gets brought up.”

During an interview last week, Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said he wants to consider other funding mechanisms, including property tax, to bolster Metro’s ranks.

“I don’t think it’s been thoroughly discussed enough,” he said. “Sales tax, that can be problematic for a lot of people. Business owners will start seeing a decline in individuals’ spending money.”

Commissioner Larry Brown said increasing public safety is the commission’s most important job.

“We need to identify any and all funding to put more police on our streets and in our neighborhoods,” he said.

Commissioner Susan Brager said that “nothing is more important than safety.” Right now, Brager said, she doesn’t see viable options to funding more Metro officers other than a tax increase.

“If somebody can come up there with another source of funding, I would also look at that,” she said. “But so far the only ways I see are raising the property tax or the sales tax.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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