Hiring of new North Las Vegas officers scrutinized

An audit meant to clear up questions about how North Las Vegas managed more than $34 million in sales tax funds it received to hire additional police officers is complete, with mixed results for the city.

The audit of the city’s More Cops fund, completed in June, found the city properly used the funds to hire new police officers in most cases.

But the audit, performed by the Las Vegas office of Kafoury, Armstrong & Co., also noted the city shifted five police officers already on the payroll to positions funded by More Cops without immediately filling their existing positions — an action auditors characterized as “noncompliance,” in violation of More Cops requirements. Those shifts represented almost $1.8 million charged to the More Cops fund, the audit said.

The original More Cops initiative, enacted in 2005, stated funds raised through a quarter-cent sales tax to hire and equip additional police officers could not be used to “replace or supplant existing funding” for police departments.

The audit also found the city failed to correct payroll mistakes that led to $85,777 being incorrectly charged to the More Cops fund, kept inconsistent records of equipment purchases and didn’t complete required paperwork when transferring officers in and out of the More Cops fund.

Still, several North Las Vegas officials said Friday that the audit proves the city appropriately handled the funds, and that any “minor” violations could be chalked up to human error.

“I was confident we had done nothing wrong, and I knew it would come out this way,” Mayor Shari Buck said.

But Councilman Richard Cherchio, who was among those who originally criticized how the funds were being used, said he still has his doubts.

“Overall I think we could have done a better job honoring the spirit of the More Cops initiative,” he said. “But I’m satisfied with the audit.”

Police and other officials began raising questions about the fund’s management early last year. They said the city violated the spirit of the More Cops sales tax in February 2008 when it shifted 32 police officers already on the payroll from positions paid for by its general fund and a separate public safety tax fund known as “Safe Streets 2000” to positions funded by More Cops. Such a move improperly replaced existing funding with More Cops funding, they said.

City management, meanwhile, insisted it did nothing wrong, and that the whole controversy stemmed from an administrative mistake.

Funding for those 32 officers, some of whom had been on the force more than a year, was meant all along to come from More Cops, former City Manager Gregory Rose said last year.

The audit found 30 instances in 2008 in which proper paperwork was not completed when transferring officers in or out of the More Cops fund. City management, in a written response to the finding, said “confirmation and authorization” for the transfers “was done by e-mail.”

The audit looked at the city’s use of More Cops funding from Oct. 1, 2005, through Sept. 30, 2009. More Cops funded 78 North Las Vegas police officers, including their salaries, retirement and health insurance expenses, vehicles and other expenses.

Acting City Manager Maryann Ustick was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment. Nor could Acting Chief of Police Joseph Chronister, who expressed concerns last year that the city’s handling of More Cops funds could affect its ability to get more such funds in the future.

Councilwoman Anita Wood said “overall, the city is pretty pleased with the results of the audit.”

“Were we perfect? No,” she said. “But this shows us where we need to improve our record keeping so this won’t happen again in the future.”

Wood said the city and Council will now “review the audit very carefully and come up with a corrective action report.”

She said the city might wind up making up any More Cops funds that were misspent. She noted that city management, in response to the audit’s findings, argued it shifted only two — not five — officers already on the payroll to positions funded by More Cops without immediately filling their existing positions.

Voters narrowly approved the More Cops measure. An advisory question, it initially called for a half-cent increase in the sales tax to pay for 1,700 new officers among the five police departments in Clark County. It was meant to reduce crime and help the departments keep up with the booming population growth.

The Legislature split the tax in half, requiring that the issue be revisited in 2009 before the second quarter-cent tax was imposed.

A bill to authorize the second quarter-cent sales tax in support of More Cops died in the Legislature last year because of the shaky economy.

The valley’s top cops had testified that the first quarter-cent tax funded hundreds of new police officers valleywide and brought crime down across Southern Nevada.

Gregory Rose resigned as city manager late last year, shortly after the More Cops controversy became public. He and city officials said his departure had nothing to do with the controversy.

Reached by phone Friday, Rose said he still believes the city handled its More Cops funding appropriately.

“Any time you have a person involved in the accounting process, mistakes can be made,” he said. “Those mentioned in the audit seem pretty minor in the overall scope of things.”

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@review
journal.com or 702-383-0285.

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