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July 30, 2014

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Sheriff proposes compromise tax increase for more cops

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Steve Marcus

Sheriff Doug Gillespie speaks on the Metro Police budget during a county commission meeting at the Clark County Government Center Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 | 5:23 p.m.

In an attempt to break the deadlock among Clark County commissioners, Sheriff Doug Gillespie is backing a new hybrid "More Cops" proposal that would increase the county sales tax as Metro Police hires more officers and spends down its reserves. But it’s still unclear whether the new compromise will garner the needed votes to pass.

With the help of economist Jeremy Aguero, Gillespie presented the plan, which he said would allow the department to hire 101 new officers, to Clark County commissioners at today’s meeting.

The proposal is the third revision of the More Cops sales tax initiative. Neither of the previous proposals garnered enough votes to pass.

The plan presented by Gillespie would link increases in the sales tax to the depletion of a $136 million reserve account as more officers are hired.

A .075 percent increase would be triggered when the reserve drops below $100 million, likely sometime late next year.

Another .075 percent increase would be implemented when the reserve drops below $75 million, which is projected in October 2015.

The new tax revenue would be used to hire 101 new officers over two years, while the reserve would be spent to fill vacant positions.

Both of the failed More Cops proposals raised the sales tax — one by .15 percent and another by .075 percent — with no conditions for hiring officers or using the reserves.

The commission will introduce the proposal as a formal ordinance at its Jan. 7 meeting, with a public hearing and possible vote Jan. 21.

Gillespie has argued for months that the funding is crucial to close a projected $30 million deficit in next year’s budget and to prevent the elimination of up to 250 officer positions. The department can’t afford to shrink more, he said, with Metro’s rate of 1.72 officers per 1,000 residents already well below the North American average of 2.42 officers per 1,000 residents, according to data presented Tuesday.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. We need additional revenue,” Gillespie said after Tuesday’s hearing. “If the county does not feel the sales tax is the best way to go, then they’re going to have to significantly increase their contributions to the Metropolitan Police department.”

Metro’s $490 million budget is funded by a combination of property taxes, sales taxes and $320 million in combined annual contributions from Clark County and Las Vegas.

Police departments in Henderson, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Mesquite would also received a share of More Cops sales tax revenues, if approved.

After the hearing, Gillespie struck an optimistic tone and wanted to continue educating commissioners about the plan, which some heard for the first time Tuesday.

“Prior to this discussion, I’ve taken into account the number of concerns that have been raised in prior presentations,” Gillespie said. “Now we have to work through ... the details in how the ordinance is crafted and how it looks.”

Still, it’s unclear whether Gillespie’s presentation was enough to sway commissioners, who have been split between no tax increase, a .075 percent compromise, or the fully authorized .15 percent increase. Any sales tax increase needs a five-vote supermajority to pass next month.

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, who has been a steady supporter of a compromise .075 percent increase, said Tuesday she’s unsure whether she’ll support Gillespie’s plan, which would effectively approve the .15 percent increase and spread it over two years.

She said she still needs to compare the new proposal to previous plans before making a final decision. Scow said she’s particularly interested in making sure any tax increase went only toward hiring new police officers.

“I’m anxious to sit down and look at what the differences are (between the plans),” she said.

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