County police funding plan comes in short of sheriff’s request

Clark County commissioners voted 5-2 Tuesday to support a tentative
$489 million budget for the Metropolitan Police Department, leaving a disappointed Sheriff Doug Gillespie $13 million shy of his $502 million budget request.

Under the $489 million budget, the county’s share would be $198 million. If the county went with the higher budget, its share of the $13 million difference would have been roughly $8 million more.

Commissioners left the door open to potentially increasing the police budget for the next fiscal year if funding becomes available. The city of Las Vegas and county share police costs.

Gillespie said he was disappointed by the action.

“Their contribution levels from last year to this year stay the same,” he said of the county’s share. “There is no increased cost to the county.”

A $89 million budget gives the department a force of 1.73 officers for every 1,000 permanent residents, he said, down from a peak of 2.06 officers per 1,000 people before budget cuts.

The budget doesn’t require layoffs, but eliminating vacant positions will be necessary. The department has about 2,500 officers, down by more than 400 since the economic downturn began, Gillespie said.

The $502 million budget would have allowed the department to keep what is in place now, he said.

Commissioners Larry Brown and Lawrence Weekly voted against the measure, saying funding was inadequate. Brown said police budget cuts are difficult to recover from quickly, noting it takes a year to train and put an officer on the street after budget cuts.

More funding for officers could also become available through a proposed 0.15 percentage point sales tax rate increase contained in Assembly Bill 496, which is pending in the Legislature.

Commissioners voted 5-2 to support that bill, which Gillespie is lobbying state lawmakers to support, with Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak and Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani voting no. Gillespie is pushing for amending the bill to allow more flexibility in how the sales tax money can be spent.

Sisolak said he cannot support a sales tax increase with residents still struggling in the down economy. But he does support the sheriff’s push for the flexibility to spend the funds on operations. That would allow the Police Department to tap into a reserve of $140 million, he said.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.
com or 702-455-4519.

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