Published Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 | 1:57 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 | 9 p.m.
A divided Clark County Commission today turned down two proposals to increase sales tax rates to pay for additional police officers at Metro Police and other local departments.
The decision comes as a significant setback to Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who has lobbied commissioners and legislators since December to pass the tax increase he said was critical to closing his department’s $30 million budget gap next year and avoid elimination of up to 250 officer positions.
But concerns about how Metro uses the funding it currently receives and whether more sales tax revenue would actually lead to more police officers on the streets hampered the sheriff’s effort and ultimately prevented him from getting the full support of the commission.
Gillespie appeared visibly frustrated after today's votes, saying the commission’s decision doesn’t help law enforcement in its effort to keep residents safe while the number of police officers on the streets drops.
“I believe my organization and all of law enforcement in Southern Nevada have worked toward compromise, not toward inaction. What occurred today is inaction,” Gillespie said.
Two separate plans were considered Tuesday — one for the .15 percent increase authorized by the Legislature and backed by Gillespie and another for a .075 percent increase proposed by Commissioner Susan Brager. The current county sales tax rate is 8.1 percent.
Police departments in Henderson, North Las Vegas, Mesquite and Boulder City would have also received funding from any increase in the sales tax, and representatives from each appeared Tuesday urging the commission’s approval.
Both proposals failed in a bout of political maneuvering that prevented either from getting the supermajority of five votes needed to pass.
Commissioner Tom Collins, a staunch supporter of the .15 percent increase, made the first motion to approve the .075 percent increase but then voted against it. With Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani joining him in opposition, the motion failed, taking the .075 percent increase off the table for the rest of the meeting and leaving only Collins’ preferred .15 percent proposal.
Commissioners Susan Brager and Mary Beth Scow found themselves in the swing position after both expressed support for slight increases to Metro’s funding in the form of the .075 percent increase but were wary of endorsing the full amount.
The order of the motions meant if any increase in funding for Metro was going to pass Tuesday, it would have to be the .15 percent proposal supported by Collins and fellow Commissioners Lawrence Weekly and Larry Brown.
However, both Scow and Brager held their ground and voted with Giunchigliani and Sisolak against the .15 percent increase, ensuring its demise.
A third, final motion by Sisolak that would have kept the sales tax proposal from being brought back to the commission for at least six months also failed.
Commissioners now have until July 1, 2016, to revisit the tax increase and could do so as early as November, although none suggested they would be back that soon with another proposal.
“We’re back to starting over,” Collins said. “The sheriff needs the .15-cent (increase). Mesquite, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Henderson — they need this. ... The .075-cent (increase) was not adequate for our police department and public safety in the whole Clark County community. It wasn’t enough.”
Other commissioners expressed a range of view on the sales tax.
Brager said she was “disappointed” her compromise proposal failed to gather the needed five votes.
“I believe the .075-cent increase was viable,” she said. “My motion would have been to put more officers on the street with an accountability factor of how the money would be spent, when it’s spent and when that would start.”
Brager and several other commissioners pressed Gillespie on whether increased sales tax revenue would actually lead to more officers being hired, or whether it would simply go toward filling the $30 million budget gap.
Gillespie said the .15 percent increase would prevent cuts to 250 officer positions and could lead to an additional 50 officers being hired over the course of three years.
Another sticking point was a $136 million fund the department has collected from a quarter-cent sales tax allocation Metro already collects that was approved by voters in 2004. Commissioners saw the fund as a reserve that could be tapped to cover deficits in the short term, but Gillespie pushed back, arguing the funds are needed to pay for officers hired through the tax when it sunsets in a decade.
“It is a fund set aside for funding 520 police officer positions for the life of those officers. Do we really want to dig into that account?” he said, suggesting that raiding the fund could exacerbate the deficit in future years.