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August 20, 2014

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Sheriff says he would take reduced tax hike for cops but wants more

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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.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie says he’s willing to accept a reduced increase in the sales tax if it means his department gets some funding for more officers, but he still intends to push for the full .15-cent increase when county commissioners vote on the issue Oct. 1.

“It’s better than receiving no increase at all,” Gillespie said of a revised proposal introduced today that would raise the sales tax by .075 cents. “I understand there are discussions and you have to be willing to make concessions...I think it’s still important that I continue to make a case for why I think (.15 cents) is an appropriate tax increase.”

Gillespie has spent the last nine months lobbying the state Legislature and County Commission for the increase and already made one concession by agreeing to seek only a .15-cent increase, instead of the full quarter-cent that was approved by voters in 2004 but never implemented.

The countywide sales tax is now 8.1 percent.

Gillespie will face a tough sell to the divided commission for the .15-cent increase.

Commissioner Susan Brager, who sponsored the revised proposal introduced today, is positioned as a potential swing vote and said she would “never” support the .15-cent levy.

Commissioners will debate the competing proposals at their Oct. 1 meeting, where they’ll take comments from the public before possibly taking action.

With Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani likely no votes after expressing continued skepticism about raising taxes, Brager’s support will be critical in achieving the five votes needed to pass an increase.

“It’s absolutely in the sheriff’s hands at this point if anything passes at all,” Brager said.

Gillespie has said the .15-cent increase would allow Metro to close a $30 million budget gap it faces next year and avoid eliminating 250 officer positions.

Brager’s proposal would provide the department with about $15 million, meaning the rest of the deficit would have to be made up through cuts or by tapping into a $136 million reserve fund generated by a quarter-cent sales tax that is already in place and allocated to Metro.

Gillespie has argued that the reserve fund is needed to continue paying for officers hired through the More Cops sales tax allocation, even after the levy sunsets in 2025.

“I think reserve is a misnomer. That account is there to fund those officers throughout their careers,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope when it comes to going into operating funds and moving money from one to another.”

Brager acknowledged that Metro needs funding to put more police on the streets, but she wants to make sure any increase in the sales tax goes only toward hiring and not covering other expenses.

“It’s a concern but not a crisis,” she said of Metro’s current staffing levels. “I believe that this (.075-cent increase) is sufficient and can work well for the public. I feel like it’s something we can do without going for the full .15-cent increase.”

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