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April 21, 2014

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Clark County Commission:

Fate of ‘More Cops’ lies in balance as issue returns to commission

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Steve Marcus

A family passes news racks advertising adult “entertainers” in downtown Las Vegas, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013.

Clark County commissioners will set the stage for two weeks of intense lobbying and debate with the introduction of two competing proposals to increase the sales tax to pay for more police officers.

Commissioners will discuss the tax measures and a possible ban on newsracks on the Strip when they meet at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway.

More proposals for ‘More Cops’

Metro Police’s nine-month effort lobbying legislators and then commissioners to pass a .15-cent sales tax increase hit a major snag in August when the commission, citing concerns about the effect on taxpayers, voted to table the proposal for further study.

More than a month later, Commissioner Susan Brager has come out with a revised “More Cops” proposal that would cut the sales tax increase in half to .075 percent on top of the current rate of 8.1 percent. Her plan would force Metro to dip into its $136 million reserve to cover about half of an expected $30 million budget deficit it says the department will face next year or risk having to lay off more than 100 officers.

Brager’s revised ordinance will be introduced Tuesday and could come up for a final vote after an Oct. 1 public hearing. The .15-cent proposal commissioners held off on in August also returns, at the request of Commissioner Tom Collins. The .15-cent plan will progress along the same timeline as Brager’s.

Where the “More Cops” proposals will fall ultimately is unclear. Some commissioners are opposed to any tax increase, others favor Brager’s proposal and still others support the original .15-cent increase. Some sort of compromise will be needed to garner the supermajority of five votes required to pass one of the tax ordinances.

Strip newsrack ban returns

The county has spent millions of dollars over the past year clearing obstructions and relocating utility fixtures along Strip sidewalks in an attempt to improve the flow of pedestrians.

One repeated recommendation has been to remove the more than 500 newsracks, many of which carry adult-themed magazines or fliers, that dot Strip sidewalks.

The proposal has been around since September 2012 and was last seen in March, when commissioners voted down an ordinance banning the racks. Commissioners at the time left the door open to reconsider the proposal once other obstructions had been cleared from the Strip, and on Tuesday they’ll reintroduce the ordinance with a potential vote scheduled for November.

The proposal is sure to draw a challenge from the independent owners of the newsracks, who say the county is trying to put them out of business. The newsrack ban also could draw legal challenges similar to those filed during previous county-led attempts that targeted handbillers to clean up the Strip.

Limited funds for capital projects

Lean budgets over the past several years at the county mean there hasn’t been much excess funding available for capital projects and improvements.

After two years of conservative budgeting and socking away any savings that could be found, the county has amassed $29.6 million for new projects. On Tuesday staff will ask the commission for permission to begin spending that money.

The amount includes $2.1 million for repairs to county parks, $3.1 million for major building maintenance projects and $6 million for University Medical Center, plus more than a dozen other projects.

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