Sunday, July 21, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Clark County commissioners next month are scheduled to vote on a proposed sales tax increase to help fund Southern Nevada police departments. This measure, which comes out of the More Cops initiative that voters approved in 2004, has run into some resistance.
No one wants to raise taxes, particularly coming out of the recession, but police see this as a need. The proposal would increase the sales tax in Clark County by 0.15 percent — 15 cents on a $100 purchase — and it would go to police departments. A quarter-cent sales tax was approved in 2005, and that has paid for hundreds of officers throughout Clark County.
Still, the More Cops initiative recently has become thorny, with critics questioning whether the increase would pay for salary hikes for Metro Police officers. Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s budget for the current fiscal year restores merit and longevity increases. The critics also have pointed out that the new tax wouldn’t exactly add more cops. The money would likely go toward filling existing vacancies and possibly other expenses.
The critics raise fair questions, and they should be considered. But the commission shouldn’t lose sight of the larger picture.
The recession took a toll on police departments, just as it did on everyone else, and now the community may be seeing the effects of those cutbacks. According to testimony before the Legislature this year, Metro officials said the department has seen a decrease of roughly $60 million a year since 2009.
Metro has eliminated more than 500 positions, including spots for 238 officers. And Metro is still facing a $30 million shortfall this fiscal year, which is expected to be covered by a reserve fund.
Gillespie has been diligent with his budget. He has left positions open and trimmed special units to shift officers to the street, but the current staffing levels are below what should be acceptable.
Meanwhile, Metro reported a 12 percent increase in crime from 2011 to 2012; it has reported a smaller increase this year.
So, in summary: Crime is up, the number of police officers is down.
This can’t be that hard to figure out, can it?
Without the increase, Metro and other departments will have to cut back or find other ways to maintain what they have. Certainly, there may be ways for Metro and other departments to spend their money better or more wisely deploy resources, and those should be explored. Our fear is that those concerns will overshadow what the county needs — police officers on the street.
Public safety is important anywhere, but in Las Vegas, it takes on added value because keeping the millions of visitors who come here each year safe is part of what it takes to keep the economy thriving.
The tax increase is small, but it could make a huge difference if it means keeping officers rather than cutting them.
Commissioners ought to focus on public safety in this debate, and if they do, we’re sure they’ll pass the measure.