Gillespie confident county will enact More Cops sales tax hike

Sheriff Doug Gillespie believes the sales tax increase proposal for hiring and keeping cops has enough votes to pass the Clark County Commission.

Gillespie expressed confidence Wednesday in an editorial board meeting with the Review-Journal that he has the five votes needed to get the 0.15 percent increase through the commission.

Commissioners plan to vote Aug. 6 on the More Cops proposal, and two-thirds support — five of the seven — must approve the measure before it can take effect.

“I feel confident in telling you today that the 5-2 vote that we received on both resolutions that went through the county — I’m confident that that will be the vote in August,” Gillespie said.

Commissioners have voted 5-2 on resolutions seeking support from the Nevada Legislature for the authority to enact the sales tax increase, with commission Chairman Steve Sisolak and Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani opposed.

In the 2013 session, state lawmakers passed a bill allowing — but not requiring — the county to put the sales tax increase in place. The initial amount considered was 0.25 percent, which was reduced by lawmakers to 0.15 percent.

Raising the sales tax rate for police in Clark County isn’t a new concept. In an advisory vote, county residents in 2004 supported the idea of a half-cent sales tax increase for more officers. After the vote, the Legislature authorized half that amount, 0.25 percent.

Adding another 0.15 percent to the sales tax would increase the overall rate in Clark County to 8.25 percent.

With its existing 8.10 percent sales tax, the county has the highest rate in Nevada. Other counties range from 6.85 percent to 7.725 percent, according to the Nevada Department of Taxation.

Gillespie said he isn’t easing up on lobbying efforts between now and the Aug. 6 vote.

“My confidence isn’t such a way that I’m not doing my part to continue to interact with all seven to answer any questions and to be available and to openly discuss concerns that may arise,” he said.

He also leavened his prediction with a dose of political reality: “You can’t take anything for granted.”

He’s still working on the two potential “no” votes.

“I’d love a 7-0,” Gillespie said. “I’ve told them that, and that’s my goal. I think that sends a really good message.”

Without the tax increase put in place, Gillespie said the Metropolitan Police Department faces a $30 million shortfall, which could lead to a reduction in police officers a year from now. The city of Las Vegas and county share the costs of the department. The revenue generated would pay for about 250 existing officer positions and 100 new positions.

The sales tax revenue would also generate revenue for the Henderson, Mesquite and North Las Vegas police departments.

Asked if the sales tax revenue would pay for raises, he said the money can only pay for the officer positions that are funded by the More Cops sales tax revenue — not the entire force. The sales tax revenue would pay for those positions and cover any raises the officers get, he said.

He rejected the notion of reaching into the sales tax revenue and pulling funds out for all employees.

“That would be inappropriate, and I will not be doing that,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie also stressed the need to have a salary system that pays employees more when they get promoted and take on more responsibilities.

Currently, some police officers who test for sergeant and get promoted end up breaking even financially, he said.

Situations like that need to be addressed so employees are motivated to seek advancement instead of handling added responsibilities for the same pay, he said.

If Gillespie’s assessment of commission support proves wrong, and the sales tax doesn’t pass, then there would be no need for immediate layoffs. That is because the department has a $30 million fund balance to carry it through the current fiscal year, which began July 1, he said.

At this time next year, the department would have to look at layoffs if commissioners reject the sales tax increase, Gillespie said.

“We will not have $30 million, I can guarantee that,” he said.

Indeed, even with the sales tax increase, Gillespie said he will still need to ask the city and county for more support of the Police Department in the future.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@ or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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