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Most Clark County commissioners cautious on sales tax increase

Clark County would generate $108 million yearly if the commission imposed a quarter-cent sales tax to fund education and social services, as authorized by a new state law, county spokesman Erik Pappa said.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom assumed credit for the idea behind Assembly Bill 309, pointing to his campaign pitch last year to enact a 1 percent sales tax for county public schools. The bill passed both houses in the closing days of the just-concluded session and is awaiting Gov. Steve Sisolak’s signature.

“So it’s a dream come true for me,” Segerblom said about the authority to raise the sales tax.

Five other commissioners were more cautious Tuesday about whether they would support turning to taxpayers to boost funding for education, affordable housing and homelessness — the three issues designated by Nevada legislators to receive the tax money.

“I think there’s a lot of discussion to be had before we vote on something, but I’m open to considering it,” Commissioner Jim Gibson said.

On the fence

Commissioner Michael Naft, who noted that officials had been tracking the bill, was equally noncommittal. He called raising taxes “a last resort.” But with being responsible about spending existing tax dollars, he said, officials must also be realistic about needs.

Ultimately, Naft believed that engaging in new talks was “the responsible thing” — and it starts with Clark County School District.

Superintendent Jesus Jara expressed interest in discussions about the tax during a news conference Tuesday. Jara said he would like to coordinate efforts between the district and the county.

But even as Segerblom lauded the potential, he warned: “We don’t want to just give them a million dollars, or $100 million, whatever it is and just say go for it.”

Under AB309, county commissions across Nevada can vote, with a two-thirds supermajority, to implement the tax, or ask a simple majority of voters to approve it in an election. But most commissioners want to talk first.

Saying the “devil’s in the details,” Gibson insisted there be accountability in any plan and cooperation with the school district. Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick concurred.

“It’s our job to look at that and look at the benefits for the community as we go forward, and I think that’s kind of where we’ll all be right now with it,” she said. “It’s only been 10 hours. We don’t even have the final writing.”

Commissioner Justin Jones agreed: “They (lawmakers) added things on last night, so we’ll see.”

And Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said he hadn’t formed an opinion yet. But he tilted the narrative to what taxpayers might have to say about it.

“It’s a good conversation I’m interested in listening to,” he said.

‘Everyone pays it’

Business experts say a sales tax increase in the county, which includes the Strip, will have an impact, but how much is unclear.

“A small increase means there will be a small increase in the effective price,” said Stephen Miller, director of the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research.

Miller noted that it will be felt by tourists and locals alike: “Everyone pays it.”

Increasing sales taxes might discourage consumers from making large purchases like boats, RVs and automobiles, according to Randi Thompson, the Nevada state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

“Those businesses are hurt the most by such sales tax increases,” she said.

County officials haven’t raised the sales tax, currently 8.25 percent, since April 1, 2017, when it inched up 0.1 percent as part of a crime prevention bill approved by the Legislature, according to a county document tracking increases.

AB309 has now effectively put the pressure on commissioners over whether to do it again, Thompson said.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter. Review-Journal reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey contributed to this report.

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