‘Difficult times’

If Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie followed the lead of university Chancellor Jim Rogers (see EDITORIAL: Mad Mr. Rogers), the longtime lawman would demand fiscal immunity from the recession and declare that if the Las Vegas police budget were not allowed to expand, the valley would resemble the set of "Escape from New York" by summer.

Thankfully, Mr. Rogers’ act is not inspiring copycats. The sheriff presented his tentative 2009-10 budget to the Metropolitan Police Department on Monday morning, and his tone was downright measured.

"We understand we are in difficult economic times," Mr. Gillespie told representatives of the Las Vegas City Council and Clark County Commission, which jointly fund the consolidated police force. He outlined a no-growth spending plan of $549 million that includes $18.6 million in cuts through the elimination of about three dozen positions, replacing costly larger vehicles with smaller, cheaper ones and reducing training and travel budgets.

Mr. Gillespie said he would seek further budget savings by pursuing wage concessions from the department’s three employee unions. The largest of those three is the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents rank-and-file officers. Its contract is up for renewal this year, and the union isn’t known for restraint when it comes to wages and benefits.

The sheriff is politically astute. Already, he’s asking the Legislature to approve a quarter-percentage-point increase in Clark County’s sales tax rate to fund the hiring of additional police officers. (That increase was supported by a slim majority of county voters in 2004.) And he’s moving forward with plans to build a new department headquarters at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alta Drive. Asking the city and county for more money on top of those efforts would be a bit much.

That said, amid so many cries of poverty and doomsaying from the public sector, Mr. Gillespie’s acknowledgement that government must at least attempt to exist within the confines of overall economic conditions is refreshing. His budget proposal is a good start.

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