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The Politics of Safety #3


PLASKON: From traffic initiatives to mediating disputes and investigating crime, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's mission is to protect the people, property and rights of 1 million one hundred 85 thousand residents in the city and county. There are about 1.85 officers per thousand people to do that, below the average in the west of 2.1 officers per thousand people. The police department wants to be closer to the average and so it's asking voters to approve a half percent increase in sales taxes to get there. Keith Schwer, Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV estimates the tax would cost 41 dollars per taxpayer a year, based on the 44-thousand dollar a year median income in Las Vegas.

SCHWER: People who save a lot will pay a smaller percentage so typically a sales tax impacts lower income households that spend a greater percentage of their income.

PLASKON: The costs of police protection aren't distributed evenly right now either. Property tax payers fund the majority of 383 million dollar police budget this year. The cost per resident should be near 179 dollars a year according to Department of Justice statistics from the year 2000. But the Las Vegas Police cost 323 dollars per resident, 144 dollars above the national average. More current statistics show that Las Vegans pay 100 dollars more per officer than the amount residents of similar size cities like Phoenix pay. Don McDonald is an author of the opposing arguments to the ballot initiative. He says there should probably be more police but historical growth in property taxes can pay for those officers. He has calculated how much more Las Vegans will pay if the measure is approved.

Support comes from

MCDONALD: In 2006 the tax would raise 80 million and in 2009 the tax would deliver 240 million.

PLASKON: Speaking on KNPR's State of Nevada, Sheriff Bill Young said extra revenue is part of the plan.

YOUNG: We did quite a bit of research and analyzing and I dispute how much money he says we would raise. But we would build some cash reserves.

PLASKON: With or without a plan, the ballot question is only advisory. If voters find a sales tax increase palatable funding for police could be re-structured entirely.

BOGGS-MCDONALD: It is a very complicated formula.

PLASKON: Lynette Boggs has monitored police spending for over a decade as a member of the police fiscal oversight committee, assistant county manager, city council member and county commissioner. She knows the current formula.

BOGGS-MCDONALD: It takes into account population and calls for service. So if more calls come in from the county or city, that is where the money shifts.

PLASKON: She is running against Democrat David Goldwater for County Comission Seat F. Both candidates are in favor of approving a sales tax because a sales tax would add tourists to the payer mix for police services. Metro estimates that 40 percent of revenue from new sales taxes would come from tourists. The current police funding formula mostly paid for by Nevada property owners was enhanced by additional property taxes approved in 1988 and 1996. Boggs McDonald says a sales tax for public safety would tap Las Vegas residents from two sides.

BOGGS-MCDONALD: A county taxpayer would not only be paying from the general fund, but property tax as well as sales tax and so that would be a the percentage the city-county funding could possibly be on the table at the legislature.

PLASKON: A sales tax would free up property taxes currently allocated to police and allow local government to spend the money on other services. Taxes approved specifically for police have taken a greater burden over the past 5 years. The city and county have actually reduced their share of funding to the police department by 6 percent. If a sales tax is approved the county will want to further divert funds McDonald says for projects like a consolidated police station or for child welfare.

BOGGS-MCDONALD: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and we will also have to find ways to fund more jail beds, prosecutors and more public defenders and so as a consequence the entire funding structure will have to be debated in the legislature.

PLASKON: Restructuring police funding to accommodate a sales tax and free up more county and city dollars would affect all five police agencies in the valley. All of them have signed on in support of the tax increase, except the North Las Vegas police department. It's chief is staying neutral and not playing politics with safety.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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Wednesday, October 6, 2004

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KNPR's State of Nevada