Clark County commissioners on Tuesday signaled that they were unwilling to commit any dollars from a potential quarter-cent sales tax hike to the school district without first meeting with trustees on a plan for accountability.
A quarter-cent sales tax increase authorized by Assembly Bill 309 would generate $108 million yearly if commissioners vote to impose it, the county has said. While lawmakers restricted where funding may be directed, many of the eligible programs are connected to education.
With millions of dollars at stake for the district, commissioners are seeking assurances that school officials have a plan and accountability measures for spending taxpayer money and will collaborate with the county.
“If they don’t want to do it, then that’s kind of where we end up,” Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said. “But it’s on them to prove to us that student achievement is their top priority.”
Commissioners directed staff members to set up a joint public meeting between the two entities, which they hope will bring public attention, and input, to the potential sales tax increase and answer questions from county officials.
“I’m pleased that these conversations are happening to benefit our students,” Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a statement. “A meeting … is a great next step. I want to ensure that concerns are addressed so that we all move forward with students at the forefront.”
Under AB309, the commission needs a two-thirds vote to impose the tax, or a simple majority of voters in a ballot question. The county has discretion about whether to impose the tax, and may also also reduce the rate. Elected officials hold a “considerable amount of leeway” in determining start dates, sunset clauses and reporting requirements, according to county legal counsel Mary-Anne Miller.
But officials are also confined to directing funds toward several specific uses. Among them: early childhood and adult education; reducing truancy; and recruitment and retention of teachers. Dollars can be sent to the school district, a city in the county or be retained by the county itself.
The question Tuesday, raised by Commissioner Larry Brown, is whether to focus on county-specific needs such as truancy, homelessness and affordable housing.
By providing money to the school district, “I’m not convinced that wouldn’t be throwing money away,” Brown said. “I think there’d have to be almost a culture change from the district in partnering with Clark County.”
Even so, county officials on Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to education, and acknowledged how lawmakers had suggested at least half of the proposed tax revenues be spent in that area.
“This is going to be one of the more significant things that this board does,” Commissioner Michael Naft said. “It’s going to impact every single resident of this county, likely, and I just think we owe it to them to make sure that we are doing this in the most transparent and accessible and approachable way as possible.”
Marijuana tax hike
Commissioner Tick Segerblom said bumping the sales tax to 3 percent for marijuana growing, production and retail activities will produce about $2 million annually that can be directed to homelessness programs.
The commission directed staffers to prepare paperwork for the potential increase, which will bring the tax to the maximum allowed under state law. Currently, the tax rate is on a sliding scale, according to Segerblom.
A business impact statement will come back to elected officials in a future meeting, allowing the public to address the proposal before any official action is taken.
Lobbying rule change
The commission also approved a rule prohibiting “those who have violated the trust of their public positions” from lobbying county officials. The item was introduced by Commissioner Justin Jones, after former Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow registered as a city lobbyist after serving a short federal sentence related to the misuse of campaign funds.