Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 | 4 p.m.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s face was grim as he described the largest budget shortfall yet facing Metro Police: an estimated $46.5 million deficit for 2013.
“There’s no way to put it other than that’s the way it is,” Gillespie told reporters Thursday.
Gillespie estimates the department’s revenue in 2013 around $456 million with expenses around $502 million.
The numbers don’t come as a surprise to Gillespie. Clark County and the city of Las Vegas have been lowering their contributions every year to the joint police force.
The city and county share responsibility for the bulk of Metro’s budget, which is approximately half a billion dollars annually. The city each year has to come up with 40 percent of Metro’s budget that isn’t covered by self-generated revenues. The county comes up with the other 60 percent.
“Should the community be concerned,” Gillespie said in a Metro video. “Yes. They should be concerned.”
Despite the department’s appeals, Gillespie noted Thursday that the Legislature still had not authorized a quarter cent of the half-cent sales tax increase Clark County voters approved in the 2004 More Cops advisory referendum.
As enacted, the half-cent increase was intended to put a total of 1,200 more Metro Police officers on the street, as well as smaller numbers of additional police for other Clark County jurisdictions. After the vote, the Legislature agreed to allow a quarter-cent increase and told Metro it would have to come back in the future to request the other quarter cent.
On top of budget woes, Gillespie said the department also had been called on to provide security every time the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns come to the Las Vegas Valley. Metro, however, does not get reimbursed for the services it provides, he said.
Already budget cuts have led to the suspension of two Metro police academies and the student antidrug program, DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).
Gillespie said that while he believed none of the programs wasted taxpayer dollars, the department’s main focus was on getting officers on the street where they are needed.
In past years, any looming budget deficit was offset by money put aside during better times. At the end of fiscal 2008 Metro had $137 million in the bank; now less than $10 million remains in the department’s reserve fund, Gillespie said.
“I’m not saying it’s the end of the world,” Gillespie said of the expected shortfall, adding that the department has cut operational costs in each of the past five years.
Additionally, in June Gillespie instituted a hiring freeze. In doing so, he said he would not balance Metro’s budget on the backs of its officers via layoffs.
Currently, Metro has 117 vacant positions to serve as a buffer against layoffs, he said. Another 70 to 80 officers also leave the department every year.
The department has 238 fewer officers today than in its peak, with 1.83 cops per 1,000 residents, Gillespie said, adding he could not think of lower ratio in another major U.S. metropolitan area with the exception of San Diego. The statistic, he noted, doesn’t factor in tourists who stay in Las Vegas’ 153,000 hotel rooms.
Deputy Chief Kevin McMahill said in a Metro video he’s worried about the demands placed on remaining officers and the community.
“Will it be less safe? That’s a tough thing for me to sit and say to you,” McMahill said. “The truth is probably. But I have the responsibility as chief of patrol here to work very hard to work these officers as hard as we can to keep this city safe.”
Despite the budget woes, the department continues to meet demands placed on it when major events come to town, Gillespie said. In June, Metro was able to keep crowd control at the Electric Daisy Carnival and maintained order after a controversial decision in the Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley boxing match at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Gillespie said his department would be more aggressive in its use of social media to deliver its message. The department has been using Twitter to post safety tips and put up a variety of videos on its YouTube channel.
Gillespie estimates the Metro Police budget for 2013 will be $525 million.