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October 30, 2014

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Government:

Tortoises, taxes at issue during county commission meeting

Sheriff Doug Gillespie will be back before the Clark County Commission on Tuesday with a new version of the "More Cops" sales tax increase in an attempt to unite the divided board. Commissioners will hear a report on the proposal and continue their discussion of the costs of protecting the desert tortoise when they meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway.

Revised sales tax pitch

After the latest sales tax proposal to hire more police officers was tabled before a vote during a November meeting, Commissioner Tom Collins hinted at a forthcoming presentation he said would redefine the tax debate and help bring together the fractured board.

As part of a third revision of the "More Cops" sales tax proposal, Gillespie will offer the board a report crafted with the help of economist Jeremy Aguero.

Gillespie has argued to commissioners since the summer that the increase in sales tax is necessary to prevent the elimination of up to 250 officer positions, which are threatened by a projected $30 million shortfall in Metro Police’s next budget year.

Commissioners have remained stubbornly split, with some supporting the full .15 percent levy authorized by the Legislature, others a reduced amount of .075 percent and others no tax increase at all.

Tuesday’s proposal is expected to tie phased increases in the sales tax to the depletion of a $136 million reserve fund Metro has accumulated from a .25 percent sales tax levy approved by voters in 2004. As the reserve fund is spent down and hits certain thresholds, incremental increases in the sales tax will be triggered.

If the commissioners are supportive, the proposal could be introduced as an ordinance in January and come up for approval later that month or in early February.

Desert tortoise update

Commissioners continue to seek more information about how millions of dollars collected each year to protect threatened and endangered species in the county are spent.

A report earlier this month put the cost of the county’s Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan at $95 million since 2001, which has been paid for by a $550-per-acre fee from developers.

Commissioners were startled by the costs, particularly the $15 million spent protecting the threatened desert tortoise population. Some wondered why the costs were so high to protect a species with an estimated population of 295,000 tortoises across the southwest United States.

Concerned about having to continue the expensive program for decades to come, commissioners requested more information on the recovery of the desert tortoise population and its prospects of delisting.

On Tuesday, a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will update the commission on the status of the desert tortoise and answer their questions.

Overtime lawsuit settlement

Clark County will pay $200,000 to settle portions of a 2012 federal lawsuit filed by 22 court marshals who said they weren’t paid overtime they were due.

Marshals work nine-hour shifts with a one-hour break for lunch, but the lawsuit alleges that many marshals aren’t actually given the time off and instead often end up eating in a judge’s chambers.

A second complaint alleges that the marshals weren’t paid overtime for the law enforcement academy training they went to after work and on weekends.

The commission will consider an authorization of the lawsuit settlement during its routine consent agenda.

If approved, the settlement would cover any claims associated with the training academy overtime, including back pay and attorneys fees.

The lunch hour overtime dispute portion of the lawsuit remains open in U.S. District Court.

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