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EDITORIAL: Spending priorities

The Metropolitan Police Department spent much of last year fighting for more funding from the Clark County Commission. Sheriff Doug Gillespie was aiming to cover a $30 million budget deficit and secure additional revenue to add more officers. That effort ended last month, when commissioners rejected a sales tax increase for police.

A few weeks later, the county announced it would disburse $33.4 million for park projects. The Review-Journal’s Ben Botkin reported Monday that, among other things, the money would go toward a new Siegfried and Roy Park, two equestrian facilities and landscaping upgrades. Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius then sent out this astute tweet: “Oh, look, Clark County will spend $33.4 million on new parks. … What was that Metro deficit again? $30 million? Yeah…”

Mr. Gillespie has about $137 million in reserves to cover budget deficits over the next few years. That was reason enough for the commission to reject the sales tax increase. However, as this newspaper has long pointed out, Clark County and the city of Las Vegas could fully fund the Metropolitan Police Department without a tax increase if only they’d try to better prioritize spending and reduce costs elsewhere.

The county’s parks spending spree shows the commission has no interest in frugality. That’s because park spending doesn’t end with construction — that’s where it starts. Parks create ongoing operational costs for maintenance and, ironically enough for Metro, the county’s separately funded park police force.

Parks and trails are an asset to the community, but with local governments still running budget deficits five years after the Great Recession, this is a time for tough choices. Authorizing new park construction when county labor groups are demanding — and very well might get — significant pay raises isn’t responsible.

The $33.4 million in parks funding is money the county shouldn’t be spending. The more local governments spend, the sooner they’ll demand tax increases the public won’t support (see the city of Henderson’s current property tax increase proposal). Local government leaders need to learn how to say no.

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