Sunday, April 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.
North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck reached out to Las Vegas officials and Sheriff Doug Gillespie last week in what appeared to be an attempt by the cash-strapped city to get Metro to take over North Las Vegas’ police department. But Buck ignored Clark County officials.
Commissioners shook their heads at that — unincorporated Clark County taxpayers fund much more of Metro’s budget than does Las Vegas.
(The two government bodies share the cost; Metro also receives sales tax to fund the More Cops program.)
More baffling to some commissioners were Buck’s obvious political moves. With her city on the verge of bankruptcy, she insisted she wasn’t talking to Metro about merging police departments. Yet at the same time, her city manager, Timothy Hacker, sent a letter to the sheriff saying the city would like to talk about Metro possibly “assuming … all of the functions” of the North Las Vegas Police Department.
Why would Metro entertain such a proposal?
That has county officials scratching their heads, too. In preliminary budget talks, Gillespie has asked for a budget increase, which commissioners are loath to approve. Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who sits on Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee, noted that the department has cut into pay increases in the last few years but laid off no officers.
Are North Las Vegas officers paid so little that somehow Metro’s budget would be unaffected? Metro would, after all, get tax dollars from the dwindling number of residents who still call North Las Vegas home.
We looked at North Las Vegas and Metro salaries, courtesy of Transparent Nevada, the website run by the Nevada Policy Research Institute. One problem in making a comparison is the website doesn’t differentiate between overtime paid by taxpayers and that paid by casinos or event organizers who need Metro officers as security for concerts or other events. That’s an important caveat because any cost paid by outside organizations means taxpayers bear less of a burden.
With that in mind, here’s what it shows: Out of 344 North Las Vegas Police Department jobs, 118 earned total compensation packages in 2011 greater than $150,000. That includes wages, overtime and other benefits. Of those 118 positions, 21 sergeants, 15 lieutenants and three captains earned more than $200,000.
The database showed 1,206 Metro employees — the majority non-civilian policing positions — earned $150,000 or more, while 137 earned more than $200,000, including 57 lieutenants, 32 sergeants, 29 captains and eight police officers.
What does that tell you?
It’s hard to say. Looks like lots of people in both departments earn a nice living.
But do North Las Vegas police earn, and cost, more or less than Metro?
Sisolak told the Sun they earn more. His evidence? He has been approached by North Las Vegas officers who admitted to him that they earn more because as members of a small department they have fewer chances for advancement than Metro officers.
Sisolak doesn’t want Metro to take over North Las Vegas.
In part because Gillespie insists on maintaining as close to two officers per 1,000 population as he can.
In 2009, North Las Vegas had a population of 224,000 and 1.3 officers per 1,000. That comes to roughly 290 officers.
To maintain that ratio in North Las Vegas, Metro would need to hire 157 cops.
Compounding problems, Metro will have a tough time funding a budget increase given that its budget surplus has been spent down in recent years. Sources say Gillespie may ask state lawmakers for permission to use his More Cops fund, a sales tax intended to only fund new police officers, to bolster his general budget.
That appears to leave North Las Vegas in quite a pickle, eh?
Especially if Sisolak’s views are widely held.
“I can’t imagine who would want to take them over,” he said. “How it would save anybody any money? I don’t know how (North Las Vegas) can fix this other than tax increases. They’ve got a new city hall, a new water treatment plant — huge expenses. It’s going to take them to come up with a plan.”