Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2014

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Columnist Jeff German: Young seeks tax hike for more cops

What I like most about Sheriff Bill Young in his first 10 months on the job is his passion for taking up the cause of law enforcement.

It can be contagious.

On Thursday Young set the wheels in motion for an ambitious ballot initiative in 2004 to ask voters for a property tax hike to put more cops on the street.

He summoned a small group of community leaders he hopes will help him raise $1 million for the campaign to his City Hall office, where he pitched his case for additional officers.

At the meeting Young received a $20,000 check from the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union that represents the officers under the sheriff's command, to kick off the fund-raising drive.

Young already has assembled an impressive array of political strategists to coordinate the ballot initiative, which officially won't get underway until early next year. Kent Oram, Sig Rogich and Billy Vassiliadis all are on board.

"I'm not going to sit on my hands and just give in to the criminals," Young said with the usual emotion we have come to expect from him. "People know that public safety is the single most important thing we do in government."

Getting more cops on the street has been Young's top priority since taking office at the beginning of the year. And though this may be the worst time in the world to ask the voters for money, the sheriff makes a strong case.

In February Young asked the City Council and the County Commission to increase the Metro Police Department's budget by 25 percent to $400 million, primarily to hire 389 new officers. Had he gotten what he wanted, the department's ratio of 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents would have risen to 1.97, still below the national average of 2.5.

But the sheriff got much less than what he wanted, about enough to hire only 35 new officers this year.

Since then, while growth has remained unchecked and tourists have come to town at a prolific pace, the department's ratio of officers has dipped to 1.67 per 1,000 residents, Young said.

And the Justice Department, Young said, has reported that crime rose 12 percent here in 2002.

"To get that rate going the other way, we've we got to hire more cops," Young said.

So Young is hoping the voters come through as they did in 1996, when they overwhelmingly approved a ballot question requesting a property tax hike for 450 more officers.

The sheriff hasn't figured out exactly how many more officers he wants this time, but he estimates he will seek funds to cover 500 to 800 new positions.

Whatever he requests, Young has a hard sell ahead of him.

Nevadans are beginning to bear the burden of a record $836 million tax hike enacted by the Legislature to keep the state afloat. At the same time, our power and water bills are going up, gasoline prices and insurance rates remain high and even sewer fees are expected to rise.

Everywhere we turn, it seems, we are being asked to dig deeper into our pockets.

But this is the price we pay to keep up with the valley's rapid growth.

It is the price we have to pay to feel safe on the Strip -- and in our homes.

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