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December 1, 2015

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At Legislature, police pitch need for Clark County sales tax hike


Leila Navidi

Sheriff Doug Gillespie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012.

Police departments in Clark County asked legislators Tuesday for a quarter-cent “More Cops” sales tax increase to hire more officers.

The Legislature needs to approve a bill in order to let local elected bodies vote on the tax hike, which could bring in about $80 million in revenue for the various police departments in Clark County.

Assembly Bill 496 would allow police departments to hire more officers and pay for equipment at a time when their budgets are shrinking and crime is increasing, public safety officials said at a legislative hearing for the bill.

The bill would allow police departments to both balance their budgets and hire more officers, said Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

In advocating for the tax hike, Metro made the case that its share of property tax revenues has dropped because of the housing crisis, creating a $46 million deficit. A hiring freeze has been instituted as a result.

The proposed tax hike would be the second round of a half-cent sales tax increase that Clark County voters approved in 2004.

Only a quarter-cent has been enacted so far.

Gillespie said that new officers could be on the streets by the end of 2014 if the Legislature approves the tax bill.

Chuck Callaway, Metro’s lobbyist, said they could hire up to 200 officers with an eighth of a cent sales tax increase.

An amendment to the bill would impose the sales tax in two increments: the Clark County Commission would vote on an eighth of a penny sales tax on this year and could consider an additional eighth of a penny in 2015.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said last year that he would support the quarter-cent sales tax increase in Clark County to pay for more police officers.

He cited Clark County voters’ previous approval for the measure.

The Clark County Commission, Las Vegas City Counciland North Las Vegas City Council have passed resolutions supporting the original tax increase bill, but have not yet approved the amended version.

Legislators questioned how local governments and police departments would use the money at the hearing Tuesday.

Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she wants assurances that local governments won’t use accounting trickery to shift the money.

“I want to be clear on what the rules are and what the accountability is going forward on the expectations,” she said.

She said her constituents can’t follow every twist and turn of local government and police budget processes.

“They just want more officers,” she said. “People want to be able to see officers drive through their neighborhoods.”

Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, D-Las Vegas, gave Gillespie a long list of questions about the bill that she said she needed answers for by Thursday.

Opponents have said Metro Police — the major beneficiary of the proposed tax hike — can do more to find efficiencies, citing a failed communication system and ongoing lease payments for the headquarters of the department.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank, has relentlessly been tweeting a “Metro salary of the day” in an effort to argue the police department is mismanaging the money it already has.

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, saying that it instead supported allowing Metro to use the sales tax revenue to balance its budget.

The tax increase is contingent on passage in the Assembly and the Senate, the governor’s approval, and the Clark County Commission’s approval.

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