Clark County commissioners grilled Sheriff Doug Gillespie on Tuesday about the proposed More Cops sales tax increase.
If commissioners end up approving the measure, residents and visitors would pay 0.15 percent more in sales taxes to better fund police officers and their equipment.
For the Metropolitan Police Department, the revenue would pay for 100 new officers and cover another 250 existing positions.
“This is your Police Department, and we’ve all got to work together to find a solution to this,” Gillespie told commissioners.
The increase would boost the county’s overall sales tax rate to 8.25 percent.
An ordinance for the increase will be introduced at the commission meeting on July 16, with a final vote expected on Aug. 16. If approved, the increase would start Oct. 1.
To pass, the tax increase will have to get two-thirds support: five out of seven commissioners.
More Cops would generate $30 million to $33 million annually for the Police Department. It would raise money for other county police agencies, including Henderson, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Mesquite.
After Tuesday’s presentation, Gillespie told reporters the sales tax increase is necessary so officers can do more than react to calls.
“We can’t have them spending the majority of their time going from call to call,” he said. “They have to have that random patrol time that’s so important.”
County voters in 2004 supported the concept of a half-cent sales tax increase for more cops. Half of that amount — 0.25 percent — was allowed by the Legislature.
This year, the Legislature agreed to give the County Commission the authority to increase the tax by another 0.15 percent. Gillespie said the sales tax increase would fill the department’s $30 million shortfall. Even with the increase put in place, he said, more financial help from the city and county would be needed in the long term.
“This will help us, but this is not a long-term solution,” Gillespie said. “This helps us today.”
No commissioners strongly spoke against the sales tax increase. But commission Chairman Steve Sisolak noted he has concerns about raising taxes and is keeping an open mind. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the county must be mindful of its overall budget, which includes the Fire Department and County Detention Center, which could see increased inmates and costs with more officers.
They were the only two commissioners who voted in December against a resolution the county sent to the Legislature seeking authority to increase the tax. If that 5-2 vote holds true in August, the measure will pass.
Sisolak said constituents have asked whether the money will go toward pay increases for officers.
Gillespie said the department is looking at reinstating merit pay at 4 percent and longevity pay at 0.5 percent. Some staff are eligible for merit pay, and others are eligible for the longevity pay.
Sisolak also asked how much was in the account from the existing quarter-cent sales tax being collected for More Cops. The answer: $124 million.
The department has kept that fund’s balance with an eye toward long-term financial needs and immediate needs with revenues down. Annual spending in that account is about $64 million, $4 million short of sales tax revenues coming in.
But Gillespie said long-term financial needs will remain for the 520 officers already hired under the initial quarter-cent sales tax increase.
The existing sales tax, which started in 2005, sunsets in 2025. As a result, if the tax isn’t renewed by the latter date, the department would still be on the hook to pay for the officers, as most won’t be ready for retirement yet.
Gillespie said that with a typical 25- or 30-year year career of officers, the department has another five to 10 years of paying for the salaries and benefits beyond the sunset.
The answers to some questions weren’t readily known.
For example, Gillespie said he couldn’t say exactly how many additional cops would be hired in one year. That is because the additional revenue would only have been coming in for a short time by July 2014.
Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said she would like to see a comparison showing the effect that more police officers have on crime rates.
Commissioner Larry Brown said the sales tax increase has built-in transparency, noting that the law requires expenditure reports of how the money is spent.
“I think the goal is to stop the backward trend and get some stability,” he said.
Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said he is undecided. On the one hand, having more officers would reduce crime, he said.
On the flip side, Weekly said, he is worried about the economic impact of raising the sales tax rate.
“Right now I’m 50/50,” Weekly said.
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@review journal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.