Published Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 | 2:48 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 | 5:50 p.m.
The Clark County Commission has turned back the latest proposed versions of the More Cops sales tax to fund more police officers.
Commissioners voted 4-3 today on a plan that would have increased the county sales tax by a total of .15 percent in two equal phases. Commissioners Steve Sisolak, Chris Giunchigliani and Susan Brager voted against the plan. A five-vote supermajority was required for passage.
A second motion by Brager to increase the sales tax by a flat .075 percent went down 3-2 with Sisolak and Giunchigliani opposed. Commissioners Tom Collins and Larry Brown, both vocal supporters of the tax, did not participate in the second vote.
Brager said she wanted to see Sheriff Doug Gillespie walk out of today’s commission meeting with at least some of the sales tax increase. But Brager said she didn’t feel comfortable authorizing the full .15 percent called for under Gillespie’s plan, an objection the commissioner has had for months.
Brager seemed close to swinging in the sheriff’s favor as she asked county legal staff what would be necessary to rescind the sales tax authorization if the money wasn’t spent as intended. Legal staff advised that such a vote could require a five-commissioner supermajority, something Brager worried would make it too difficult to rescind the tax if need be.
“I’m sorry, that was not my intent,” Brager said as her motion for .075 percent failed.
Today’s action dooms the latest incarnation of a proposal Gillespie has been pushing for more than a year. The commission failed to pass four separate versions of the proposal in recent months and few alternatives remain, leaving the future of the tax increase uncertain.
Gillespie’s latest plan called for a .15 percent increase to be phased in over two years, but only if Metro spent down a $140 million reserve to hire new officers. When that fund hit $100 million, which was expected in October, the first .075 percent sales tax increase would go into effect. The second .075 percent increase would be triggered when the fund hits $75 million, which officials estimate would occur in October 2015.
The increased tax revenue was to be used to hire 101 new officers over two years, while the reserve would be spent to fill vacant positions.
Previous proposals to raise the sales tax by .15 percent or .075 percent came with no conditions for hiring officers or using the reserves and failed to garner the required supermajority.
Gillespie has argued for months that the funding was crucial to close a projected $30 million deficit in next year’s budget and to prevent a continued slide in Metro’s budget. Without the tax increase, the department could be forced to eliminate 700 officer positions by 2020, Gillespie said.
In a late-afternoon news conference, Gillespie said the commission's decision "disappoints me greatly." But he also promised officers, “your jobs are safe.”
Gillespie didn’t give any indication on the future of the More Cops proposal and instead said he would focus on planning for next year’s budget without the additional sales tax revenue.
He said he’s concerned about increasing crime rates throughout the valley, something more officers are needed to combat.
“Make no mistake, I’ll continue to place significant pressure on my organization to come up with creative and innovative ways to still beat it back, but we need more cops,” Gillespie said.
Metro’s $490 million annual budget is funded by a combination of property taxes, sales taxes and $320 million in combined annual contributions from Clark County and Las Vegas.
Commissioner Larry Brown, a consistent supporter of the sales tax who sits on the committee overseeing Metro’s budget, said the community needed more officers on the street and couldn’t wait any longer to take action.
“Argue on any side of this, but we’re losing sight of more police officers on the street,” he said. “If we don’t move in that direction, we’re going to be in a bad, bad situation.”