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Gillespie offers More Cops tax option to County Commission

Sheriff Doug Gillespie presented Clark County commissioners on Tuesday with an option to put more officers on the street with an increased sales tax.

The proposal, called a “hybrid model,” would blend phased-in sales tax increases for more police officers with tapping into an existing More Cops account to bridge a $30 million shortfall in the department’s budget.

At this point, it’s uncertain if Gillespie has the votes to seal the deal. He’ll need the support of five commissioners. Previous efforts to pass the sales tax increase have failed. But a smiling Gillespie appeared confident when talking to commissioners and reporters after the meeting.

Under the proposal, half of the authorized 0.15-percentage point increase in the sales tax — 0.075 percentage points — would start in October 2014. The second 0.075 percentage point increase would start in October 2015.

That, in turn, would allow the department to hire 101 additional officers in the next two fiscal years. Fifty-one additional officers would be hired in 2015, which starts in July 2014. Fifty more officers would then be hired in 2016, which starts in July 2015.

The sheriff’s proposal was an effort to find middle ground with commissioners as they and the public scrutinize a potential sales tax increase while the department’s existing More Cops account from a 0.25 percentage point sales tax that started in 2005 has grown to about $140 million.

“I believe it incorporates a number of concerns that have been raised,” Gillespie told commissioners.

Jeremy Aguero, a principal analyst with Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas consulting firm, gave a presentation on behalf of Gillespie to commissioners.

In his presentation, Aguero pitched the issue as one of four choices: doing nothing, raising the sales tax by the full amount right away, raising the sales tax by part of what’s allowed, or a hybrid plan with a phased-in More Cops sales tax.

Aguero pointed out that the Metropolitan Police Department’s force is authorized for 1.90 officers for every 1,000 residents, while the average in North America is 2.42. Factoring in the visitors flowing through Las Vegas, it’s 1.58 officers for every 1,000 residents.

He said the existing More Cops fund will continue to drop with no new revenue, and be below $100 million in fiscal year 2015.

With nothing happening, he said, the department will be forced to have a reduction of 684 officers by 2020.

“You can’t spend money you don’t have,” he said.

With the increase, there would be no reduction, and 101 more officers, he said.

Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said the union wasn’t given a presentation before Tuesday’s meeting. He raised concerns about the limited number of officers that would be hired under the plan, pointing out that vacant, funded positions remain unfilled. Raising the sales tax by 0.15 percentage points should provide a minimum of 250 new officers he said.

Afterward, Gillespie spoke to reporters.

“I don’t give up when I think things are important,” he said,

adding that he wouldn’t be bringing the idea forward if he didn’t think it had a good chance at passage.

He said the labor groups didn’t get presentations as the idea was still in the works, and he didn’t want to make commitments that would turn out not to be truthful.

The state Legislature this session authorized the county to vote on an increase of up to 0.15 percentage points to fund police officer positions.

The revenues also would go to police departments in North Las Vegas, Henderson, Mesquite and Boulder City. Las Vegas police serve the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated areas of Clark County.

Commissioner Larry Brown said that in the long term, it would be nice to see a more stable funding source for the Police Department and other public agencies, but noted that power rests with the Legislature.

“I’ve very supportive and have been from day one to hire more police officers because if we don’t, the results are just unacceptable,” he said.

Brown added: “If we don’t find a way to bring in more officers, we are going to be in a crisis situation.”

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman encouraged the commissioners to give More Cops a good look, noting that Clark County cities have also passed resolutions endorsing a 0.25 percentage increase to the sales tax. The Legislature whittled that down to a maximum of 0.15 percentage points.

“If we don’t have a safe city, we have nothing,” she said.

Commissioners anticipate voting on the ordinance in January.

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

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