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This Tuesday, call in sick, hire a sitter, set your smartphone to vibrate. Ringside seats are free for the longest-running fight in Nevada since Joe Gans beat Oscar Nelson in three hours and 42 rounds in Goldfield back in 1906.
Just like that historic slugfest, this should be one helluva battle.
Tuesday is when Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie comes back for round three of his ongoing six-month bout with Clark County Commissioners about a small sales tax increase to fund more cops on valley streets. Beaten back by the commission throughout much of 2013, Gillespie returns Tuesday for a public hearing and a vote on a fresh proposal to replace officers he’s lost to attrition, and to hire the hundreds of new cops he says will be needed throughout the rest of the decade. He wants to do it by raising the local sales tax.
While no one is taking bets on who’ll win this time, some wonder if Tuesday’s meeting with the sheriff will be as heated as those last year.
“If history repeats itself, then yes,” said Clark County Commission Larry Brown, whose District C includes parts of the northwest valley that have seen record growth since 2005, when the Nevada Legislature first approved raising sales taxes by .25 percent to hire more cops. “The difference is this time we’re at a point where many of the questions we’ve asked have been answered.”
Maybe for Brown. He said he’s a likely supporter of the sheriff’s request to raise the local sales tax by .15 percent over two years while dipping into Metro’s reserves to plug a looming budget deficit. The same likely holds true for, say, District B Commissioner Tom Collins, who rarely meets a Metro budget request he doesn’t like. But other commissioners, and a growing number of taxpayers, aren’t buying Gillespie’s spiel.
“They claim they need all these officers, but they haven’t hired them. What’s the real story?” asked Chris Giunchigliani, commissioner for District E. “What’s frustrating to me is [Metro] did have the funding and could have hired more officers – and didn’t.”
Metro is sitting on about $136 million in reserve funds. Gillespie could have used some of that money to hire the more than 100 officers police union officials said are needed now, but he didn’t. In fact, as commissioners discovered when they last talked budgets with Gillespie at their Dec. 17 meeting, Metro didn’t train a single group of law enforcement cadets last year at all.
It’s easy to understand why. A tough recession, tightening budgets and losing seasoned officers to retirement or separation have squeezed Metro’s ranks in the past several years. Few employers would want to hire new people they might have to let go if tight financial times grow worse.
But the local and state economies continue to improve. Why isn’t now the right time to dip into Metro’s substantial reserves to hire needed officers rather than waging an unnecessary budget battle that could be left for the next sheriff? Is this fighter personal for Gillespie? Is he fighting for some sense of legacy, or because he believes his own sales pitch?
For now, Gillespie isn’t talking, nor are his top-level assistants. But in recent weeks the sheriff and some officers still loyal to him have warned that their thinning ranks are to blame for local crime rates edging back up. Things might get so bad, warned a spokesman last month, that Metro might be forced to stop responding to minor traffic accidents.
Little of this has set well with some local residents, nearly four dozen of whom have registered their disapproval of Gillespie’s proposal with the county. And some support has trickled in. North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee wrote a letter. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman voiced her support at her Jan. 9 State of the City speech. Further, in recent weeks captains at each of Metro’s eight area commands have pled their case at small town-hall meetings with local business owners and average Joes.
Still, many citizens are angry at Metro for its record number of shootings, or for its insistence on paying for future cops with a regressive sales tax that affects the poor and working classes more so than the rich.
Las Vegas resident Robert Andrew summed up the mood of many citizens at that Dec. 17 commission meeting. “I am all for more cops … if we can guarantee the money will go for more cops. But we’re all tightening our belts in the private sector so why can’t the public sector do that at the same time they’re taking money out of our pockets?” CL