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August 20, 2014

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Local Government:

Las Vegas Council members not happy with county’s lack of action on More Cops

Updated Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 | 4:25 p.m.

As Clark County commissioners continue to wrestle with the fate of a sales tax increase designed to put more police officers on the street, their colleagues on the Las Vegas City Council have a message for them:

Get on with it.

Two competing More Cops tax proposals are under consideration by county commissioners. The first would impose a .15 percent increase to Clark County’s 8.1 percent sales tax rate. A competing proposal, introduced Tuesday, would raise the sales tax rate by .075 percent. Increased revenue under both plans would bolster the ranks of Metro Police and other police departments around Clark County.

County commissioners will discuss the competing proposals for the More Cops tax at their Oct. 1 meeting, where they’ll take comments from the public before possibly taking action.

Passage is by no means guaranteed: A supermajority of five commissioners is required for approval, and two members – Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak and Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani have expressed continued skepticism about raising taxes.

The Las Vegas City Council in December voted 6-1 in support of a resolution backing a ¼-cent increase in the sales tax for More Cops.

During a discussion of crime statistics at their meeting today, council members expressed frustration with their county counterparts. Councilman Bob Coffin was among the more vocal.

Citing his worries about crime in the city’s urban core, Coffin said the More Cops funding was “being held hostage by minority of county commission.”

“If the county commission doesn't reverse field, I worry about safety of citizens of this city,” he said.

City Manager Betsy Fretwell told council members public safety, mostly Metro spending, accounts for about a quarter of the city's general fund budget. The city is contributing about $119 million to Metro this year – 40 percent of the department’s budget not covered by self-generated revenues. Clark County chips in the other 60 percent.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman noted the cities of Henderson and North Las Vegas have control over their own police departments while Las Vegas shares responsibility over Metro with Clark County.

"It’s amazing to me we have such a huge obligation from our budget and zero control over it," Goodman said.

Councilman Bob Beers, who voted against the resolution in December, agreed with Goodman.

"As we tackle this problem, we have no control over this situation,” Beer said. “But it’s a very real part of our duties to the constituents that elected us."

Some county commissioners have suggested Metro has enough funds in reserve to hire more police officers and are reluctant to raise the sales tax.

"They (the commission) want to borrow from future to pay for today, I think you've got to pay as you go," Coffin said.

Sisolak, the county commission chairman, pushed back on the council members' lament that they have no control over Metro.

According to Sisolak, an early draft of the bill contained a requirement that all local city councils, including Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas, give approval before a tax increase takes effect.

“They didn’t argue when the Legislature took that out because no one wanted to vote for a tax increase,” he said.

Sisolak contested any contention the city doesn't have a say in how Metro is funded and run. The city and county have equal representation on Metro's Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees the department's budget.

“(Councilmen Ricki Barlow and Stavros Anthony) were there when the sheriff said ‘We’re giving raises.’ They knew that was going to increase the budget, but nobody objected to that stuff,” Sisolak said. “It’s the same story as with the Legislature. Nobody else wants to have to take a tax vote.”

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