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September 18, 2014

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Sheriff ‘duplicitous’ in making his case for ‘More Cops,’ commissioner says

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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.

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Selective accounting by Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie has led to a discrepancy that one county commissioner says undermines Gillespie's pitch for an increase in the sales tax to hire more police officers.

Gillespie and Metro Police have built their nine-month More Cops sales tax lobbying effort against a grim backdrop of slashed budgets and fewer officers on the streets. In recent years, the department has cut $60 million from its budget and seen the number of authorized officer positions dip from a high of 2,981 in 2010 to a current total of 2,555.

Gillespie has framed the .15-cent sales tax increase he’s requesting as a necessary measure to bolster Metro’s ranks and prevent the further reduction of 250 positions, a case he’ll continue to make Tuesday when he presents to the commission more than a month after commissioners held the proposal indefinitely just hours before they were scheduled to take a vote.

The department’s statistics are all factual, but upon closer inspection, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani says Gillespie’s numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“If you don’t ask for actual commissioned officers, that means cops on the street, they roll in recruits and other numbers that aren’t actually police officers,” she said.

Giunchigliani asked for her own set of numbers from the department, measuring from 2008 instead of from 2010.

“If you go to 2008, that was the year the downturn first started, when we started laying off folks at the county,” she said. “He’s sticking with 2010, the highest number (of officers). To me that’s duplicitous.”

Looking only at filled positions, Giunchigliani’s numbers show that the department is only down 18 officers since 2008, from 2,498 to 2,480, significantly less than the 426 positions lost according to the sheriff’s math.

Giunchigliani said the discrepancy calls into question whether the sales tax increase will be used to actually put more officers on the street, or if it’s just a way to close Metro’s expected $30 million budget gap next year.

“Show me what the need is. This is called More Cops, not fill the budget hole,” she said. “What is it they want us to fund? If it’s a $30 million shortfall, then say that, and the board will vote on it.”

Giunchigliani said she still has questions about what cuts Metro has already made and whether further savings can be found internally. The department also has $136 million in reserves saved from its current quarter-cent sales tax allocation that several commissioners have suggested be tapped to cover the shortfall.

Two separate sales tax proposals — one for the original .15-cent increase requested by the sheriff and a modified .075-cent hike backed by Commissioner Susan Brager — will be introduced Tuesday before coming up for a potential vote on Oct. 1. The current countywide sales tax rate is 8.1 percent.

The issue has divided the board into several factions — some favoring no increase, others supporting the .075 amount and others still backing the original proposal. Any increase would need a supermajority of five votes to pass.

Giunchigliani has been skeptical about the need for a tax increase since the issue came up in December and said she’s a no vote until the sheriff answers her questions adequately. Even then, concerns about the regressive impact of the tax on residents could keep her from supporting any increase.

“We’ll see how the conversation goes,” she said.

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