Steve Sisolak, Chairman, Clark County Commission
BY JOAN WHITELY -- Clark County commissioners on Tuesday voted 6-1 to postpone, again, the vote on whether to raise the sales tax to pay for police officers at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Tom Collins was the sole commissioner to support an immediate vote on the tax hike.
Steve Sisolak, chair of the commission, says he’s skeptical of the proposal, which would raise the county sales tax from its present 8.1 percent to 8.25 percent. The hike would vault Las Vegas from the 44th highest sales tax among U.S. cities of 200,000 or more, to the 28th highest, he says.
His position is that the county “can’t commit to funding (Metro) any more until we know what our revenue is going to be.” Clark County and the city of Las Vegas contribute funding to Metro, on a 62-38 ratio, out of their revenues, which have declined during the years of recession.
Sisolak calls it a “misnomer” and a “falsity” for Sheriff Doug Gillespie to suggest either that the new tax will increase the number of officers on the streets, or that Gillespie must lay off police officers next year if commissioners vote against the hike now under consideration.
On billing the proposal as a “more cops” tax, Sisolak strongly disagrees. It will, he says, simply stabilize the present level of staffing, while compensating for the normal yearly attrition of 50 to 60 officers due to retirement or moving.
“I’m not advocating that he has to do any cutting,” Sisolak says. “He has reserves available that the sheriff wouldn’t have to make one cut.”
Besides the proposed tax hike, the sheriff has two other ways to keep officers at their present manpower level, according to the commission chair. First, Metro can either dip into its own reserve fund, which has built up over several years. Or Metro can cut elsewhere, keeping officer ranks intact. Sisolak suggested police trim Metro administration costs and ancillary services such as community affairs.
The portion of the present sales tax that was passed in 2006 will expire in 2026. Sisolak charges that Gillespie wants to set aside reserve funds today to assure that when 2026 arrives, the department will have the funds to keep on staff the officers hired during the prior 20 years. The commission chair likened the sheriff’s present request – in the form of the tax hike – to a child asking parent for $5 for a new notebook when the child “has a hundred dollars in the bank that they’re not willing to spend.”
Sisolak also says he opposes the notion of swiftly increasing police ranks, to recover from Metro’s three years of offering no police academies to train new officers. “I don’t think you can hire that many officers that quickly, that are going to last.” Sisolak prefers offering a conventional class size for the police academy, which will produce a small batch of officers yearly, for several years in a row.