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August 21, 2019

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Explaining the More Cops tax: Where it’s been, where it’s going

Metro Provides Details On Sunday's Shooting

Steve Marcus

Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo speaks during a news conference at Metro Police headquarters Monday, June 9, 2014.

What opponents say:

• With water rates, gas taxes and other expenses increasing, residents on tight budgets can’t afford the extra sales tax hit.

• The sales tax hike is regressive and disproportionately affects the poor.

• Metro needs to make sure it is spending its existing $511 million budget efficiently before asking for more money.

What supporters say:

• More funding would allow Metro to restore some of the hundreds of officer positions cut during the recession due to a shrinking budget.

• More police officers are needed on the streets because crime rates are rising.

• Voters approved the tax increase in 2004, and the Legislature authorized it in 2013.

What the tax hike could cost

The average Clark County consumer spends $15,000 a year on retail purchases, according to 2007 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent data available). That means that in one year, the tax hike would cost a county resident about $22.50.

Over the past year, a proposal to raise Clark County’s sales tax rate to pay for more Metro Police officers has taken on so many incarnations, it’s easy to get lost following its political path.

The most recent version of the More Cops tax, pitched by Sheriff Doug Gillespie, called for raising the county’s 8.1 percent sales tax by a total of .15 percentage point in two phases. It failed to get commissioners’ approval in January, and efforts to revive it have waned.

But the More Cops debate isn’t over.

Sheriff-elect Joe Lombardo, who takes office next month, is expected to try to persuade commissioners to give him more funding to add officers after his term begins. As Lombardo comes up with his own strategy for More Cops, here’s a look at how the proposal has evolved and why it hasn’t come to fruition.

History of developments

• November 2004: Clark County voters narrowly approve a half-cent sales tax increase to hire Metro officers The measure was scheduled to be applied in two phases. The first .25 percentage-point increase went into effect in 2005. The second was scheduled to become effective in 2009, but decision-makers opted to delay it because of the recession.

• August 2013: After the Nevada Legislature approved a bill allowing the Clark County Commission to raise the sales tax to 8.25 percent from 8.1 percent, the proposal goes before the Clark County Commission for a vote. Metro contends it has lost more than 400 officers since 2010 because of budget cuts, and crime has risen 9 percent. Proponents say the tax increase would allow the department to hire 150 to 200 officers. But commissioners put off the vote, citing questions about how the money will be spent and questioning why Gillespie isn’t using a reserve fund of $136 million to fill the jobs. Commissioners also say they want to get feedback from taxpayers as to whether they’d support the measure.

• September 2013: A compromise proposal emerges from Commissioner Susan Brager that would raise the sales tax only by .075 percent, half of the original proposal. Brager argued the .15 increase would be too much for taxpayers to bear. Later, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani accuses Gillespie of cherry-picking department data to back his pitch for More Cops. She says the sheriff hadn’t disclosed that Metro’s ranks were down only 18 officers since 2008, significantly fewer than the 426 positions lost since 2010, according to the sheriff’s math.

• October 2013: The commission turns down both Brager and Gillespie’s proposals. The commission is deadlocked, with two commissioners (Steve Sisolak and Giunchigliani) strongly opposing any tax increase, three (Tom Collins, Larry Brown and Lawrence Weekly) supporting Gillespie’s plan and two (Brager and Mary Beth Scow) preferring the compromise. Under state law, a five-vote majority is needed to pass the proposal because it involves a tax increase.

• October 2013: Commissioner Collins, who has supported raising the sales tax by the full .15 of a cent, comes up with a new plan. He pitches a hike of a tenth of a cent, to be instituted in April 2014 to allow revenues to start accruing, with the rest put in place by July 2014, when the new fiscal year begins.

• November 2013: Collins tables his proposal, opting to let Gillespie work on a report laying out statistics to support his argument that more funding is needed.

• December 2013: With the help of an economist, Gillespie comes up with a complex compromise that proposes linking sales tax increases to the depletion of a $136 million reserve account as more officers are hired. He suggested that as money from the fund was spent, tax hikes would be instituted in two phases in 2014 and 2015. New tax revenue would be used to hire 101 officers over two years, while the reserve would be spent to fill vacant jobs. Earlier versions of the proposal didn’t come with conditions for hiring officers or using reserves.

• January 2014: The sheriff’s plan is rejected. Commissioners haven’t budged enough for a plan to win the five votes needed.

• November 2014: Lombardo is elected to replace Gillespie as sheriff in 2015. More Cops proponents say they are hopeful that he’ll do what his predecessor couldn’t — successfully sell the tax to the commission.

Conor Shine contributed to this story.

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