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Board votes to tap Las Vegas police reserves

Amid warnings of ever-dwindling tax revenues and continuing budget shortfalls, the board overseeing the Metropolitan Police Department voted Monday to dip further into the agency’s reserves for the next budget cycle.

"I’ve always said we need to be a part of the solution to the problem, not a part of the problem, and again this is an example of this," Sheriff Doug Gillespie told the Fiscal Affairs Committee, which includes two Las Vegas city councilmen and two Clark County commissioners.

But the sheriff warned that his department cannot keep tapping the reserves forever.

Gillespie initially planned to use $33 million of his agency’s budget reserve to fill out its upcoming $501 million annual budget. The agency amassed the $84 million reserve in recent years through cutting positions, union pay concessions and other budget cuts.

After county commissioners last week set their sights on the reserve to fill their own budget holes, however, Gillespie agreed to raise the budget reserve contribution by $11 million for the 2012 fiscal year budget.

The total $44 million in reserves would help save the county $15.3 million and Las Vegas $12.3 million compared with what they funded in the current fiscal year. The county and city fund about 60 percent of the Police Department’s budget, with the bulk of the rest coming from property taxes.

In the past three budgets, the Police Department has reduced the total paid by the city and county from $353 million to $307 million.

Councilman Steve Wolfson said the city is considering setting aside the $12.3 million it will save in the coming fiscal year in case the Police Department needs the cash.

Gillespie cautioned that the remaining fund reserve of $40 million would not cover the expected budget shortfalls when the next budget comes up for approval in a year.

Commissioner Larry Brown voted for the budget but warned against continually expecting the Police Department to cut like other county agencies.

"We have to stop treating Metro like we treat every other department in the county," he said. "Public safety is without question the No. 1 priority in our valley, and we’re moving in the wrong direction."

Under the $501 million budget approved Monday, the Police Department eliminated 180 jobs, including 118 police officers. All of the positions were vacant.

The agency’s $61 million More Cops budget, which is funded by sales tax, cut another 29 police officer positions to avoid running afoul of the law that prohibits using the More Cops officers to supplant general fund officers.

In all, the Police Department has eliminated 238 officer positions in the past two years, dropping the ratio of officers per 1,000 residents from 2.0 to 1.9.

Gillespie credits the extra 550 officers hired with More Cops money in the past five years with reducing crime 35 percent.

"I don’t believe it would be prudent to dip below the 1.9," he said.

Chris Collins, executive director of the Police Protective Association, which represents about 2,800 rank-and-file Las Vegas officers, said the loss of the additional $11 million will be a challenge because department leaders were counting on it.

"It puts us in worse shape for next year," he said. "At some point, the safety of the city has to be a concern."

Brown made clear the importance of keeping officers on the street, and he suggested he would not agree to future cuts.

"I will not support continually coming after Metro to, and I don’t want to use the word punish, but force Metro to buy into everything we’re doing within the county," he said. "We lose sight of the mission of this police department by playing games and moving numbers."

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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