I-Team: Police Prepare for Battle Over Sales Tax - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Police Prepare for Battle Over Sales Tax

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Sheriff Doug Gillispie says more officers are needed on the streets. Sheriff Doug Gillispie says more officers are needed on the streets.

LAS VEGAS -- Clark County residents could be paying a higher sales tax if police convince state lawmakers to approve a plan to pay for more officers.

Lobbying efforts have been underway for months to collect the second quarter-cent of the voter approved sales tax initiative to hire more police.

In a tough economy, taxes can be a four-letter word. Opponents of the so-called more cops sales tax increase, a quarter-cent to pay for police, have any number of reasons to reject the plan.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said he's ready to answer them all because he believes the safety of the community depends on it. Not unlike his predecessor, Sheriff Gillespie has taken to the campaign trail, not as a candidate, but as an advocate for public safety.

"We need officers on the street, wearing this uniform, doing that job," Gillespie said.

He is seeking the second quarter cent of a half cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2004. Since its inception, the more cops sales tax initiative has generated more than $400 million for the Metropolitan Police Department and funded some 530 officers.

"If you look back five years ago, crime is down 20 percent. However, crime compared this year over last is up 9 percent, and it's a direct correlation to our reduction in police officers," Gillespie said.

In recent years, the economy has cost metro 238 police officer positions, largely eliminated through attrition. Another 117 are expected to be lost next year unless the department can find a way to fill its multi-million dollar budget hole.

"It's never a good time to ask to increase a tax. It never is."

Gillespie is asking and, so far, the answer is yes. Every southern Nevada city, Clark County, and the governor has expressed support for the second quarter-cent. However state lawmakers have the final word.

"I'm committed to a discussion," said Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Nevada state assembly speaker who also represents North Las Vegas.

In 2009, the I-Team revealed city leaders misused the more cops money. To date, the city has repaid what it considers the balance, some $3 million.

"We've seen what happened before, jumbled numbers, miscommunication, we've heard every excuse in the book. We're not doing that anymore. There's no excuse. We know what the rules are, we know what the voters wanted, so let's make it very clear," Kirkpatrick said.

She said, should the second quarter-cent tax be enabled, it must come with more transparency. She add there should be a way to track precisely, officer by officer, how the money is spent.

"They're going to be watching us very closely, we want that.," said North Las Vegas Police Sgt. Tim Bedwell.

As a newly-minted lobbyist, he expects tough questions from lawmakers, but does hope the bulk of the conversation will focus on public safety.

"We've got a police department that's serving the public with less than 1.2 police officers per thousand citizens. The national average is over two. Metro has 1.9 or so. They would like to get to two. We'd like to be at 1.5. And you know the citizens of North Las Vegas deserve to have that," Bedwell said.

If passed, Bedwell estimates the second quarter cent would pay for 20 additional police officers. Metro hopes for 350 which would fill  the number of its vacant officer positions.

"I don't want to come across as scare tactics with regards to crime rates, but we're at a point now where we need additional funding," Gillespie said.

And like his predecessor, Gillespie is prepared to make his case for the safety of the community.

There's no question there are fewer police officers on the streets today no matter where you live in southern Nevada than there were a few years ago. Getting that second quarter-cent is still likely to be an uphill battle. Clark County's sales tax rate of 8.1 percent is the highest in the state and some simply don't want to pay or impose any more taxes.

It is up to the Nevada Legislature to enable the tax and for the Clark County Commission to enact it.

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