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December 21, 2014

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CLARK COUNTY GOVERNMENT:

Hold everything: Commission postpones vote on sales tax increase for Metro Police

Updated Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 | 6 p.m.

After months of discussion and debate, Clark County commissioners will wait a bit longer before making their final decision on a proposed sales tax increase to pay for more Metro Police officers.

In a surprise motion during the commission’s meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Susan Brager asked her fellow board members to delay the vote, citing unanswered questions about the tax and a need for more public outreach.

The motion passed, 6-1, with Commissioner Tom Collins the lone opposition, scuttling the tax hike’s chances before Sheriff Douglas Gillespie ever took the podium to address commissioners. Although the item was delayed before any public comment, commissioners still allowed testimony from people who showed up at the packed commission chambers to speak.

The tax will be brought back for a final decision at the commission’s request, although it’s unclear when that will be.

After the hearing, Gillespie expressed optimism that the proposal would still go through. He argues is critical to the health of his department.

He attributed the delay to a flood of constituent calls and letters raising concerns to the commissioners as coverage and debate about the tax intensified in the days before Tuesday’s meeting.

Gillespie urged commissioners to bring the item back for a vote within 60 days, but commissioners didn’t commit to that timeline.

“I really believe the decision in support or not of this tax should take place in the next 60 days. That way, we know exactly what our funding streams will or will not be going into the next fiscal year,” he said.

Brager, who made the motion to delay the tax vote, said she doesn’t have a timeframe for when she’ll be ready to reconsider the proposal.

“It depends on when we get all the information that we need,” she said.

The flood of comments from residents intensified about two weeks ago and didn’t let up, Brager said. She said many raised intelligent points and concerns, including over the recent mass resignations from Metro’s Use of Force Board.

Among the questions still to be answered, Brager said she wants to make sure there are no other ways to address Metro’s budget woes besides raising the sales tax.

She’d like to know whether Metro’s reserves can be used to bridge the budget gap and whether there are ways to make the department more cost-efficient.

“Until all those are answered I was not comfortable making a decision that is so important,” Brager said. “Do we need more officers? Yes. Is there a better way to do it? I don’t know yet until all the questions are answered.

The More Cops sales tax bill was approved by the Legislature during a special session in June, but still needs a supermajority approval of five votes from the commission before it’s enacted.

If passed, it would increase the county’s sales tax by .15 of a cent, bringing the total tax to 8.25 percent, beginning in October, although the start date could change depending on when commissioners vote.

Metro’s budget has been from $549 million to $489 million in recent years, and the department faces a $30 million in the next fiscal year. Without the influx of tax money, Gillespie said the department, which has already lost 426 officers due to budget cuts, could be forced to shed as many as 250 more positions.

The $30 million generated by the proposed sales tax increase would allow Metro to keep those 250 positions and add 100 more, although when those officers would hit the streets is unclear.

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