Clark County Commissioners weren’t exactly thrilled the Legislature saddled them with the the responsibility of raising the sales taxes. Despite voicing concerns at a Tuesday meeting, commissioners voted 5-2 to increase the sales tax by one-eighth of a percent.
“None of us really wants to be in the position that the Legislature put us in, having to decide today whether we are going to raise the sales tax,” said County Commissioner Justin Jones. “I think it is critical that we take a hard look at this and the opportunities it presents for improving the quality of life for folks in our community.”
The move is estimated to generate $54 million.
Assembly Bill 309, which was approved during the legislative session, authorized municipalities to increase the sales tax by up to one-quarter of 1 percent. Commissioners went with half that instead.
The tax increase will take the sales tax in Clark County from 8.25 percent to 8.375 percent.
The bill allows money to be used to address homelessness, prevent truancy and chronic absenteeism in school, promote early childhood education, affordable housing, workforce development, and aid in recruitment and retaining teachers in high-risk schools.
Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said the tax won’t go into effect until January and the county won’t see any of the dollars until around April. The tax is also set to expire in June 2021.
The legislation was designed to allocate funds collected by the sales tax to go to the Clark County School District. Prior to the vote Tuesday, the district’s superintendent Jesus Jara spoke during public comment to support the tax, saying it will help with collaboration between the school district and the county — in July the county and the Clark County School District held a joint meeting on the tax.
Citing concerns about the school district — Jones noted the school district “hasn’t exactly proven itself over the last month or two” — commissioners decided to remove that provision and instead require the district to apply for funds for specific programs.
Commissioners Lawrence Weekly and Larry Brown opposed the ordinance.
Weekly was concerned low-income communities would bear the brunt of the tax. “People are working jobs and their wages aren’t increasing while everything else around them is being raised,” he said. The sales tax is known as a regressive form of taxation — the rate is the same for everyone, so people with low incomes pay disproportionately large shares of their income in sales taxes.
Multiple people opposed the ordinance during public comment for similar reasons, asking commissioners why they couldn’t raise revenue through other sources such as increasing the gaming tax.
Brown also was frustrated the county got stuck with the decision to raise taxes.
Commissioner Tick Segerblom explained the burden fell to the county because there weren’t enough votes to secure a tax increase through the Legislature. The state constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both houses for any tax increase.
The county is planning to come up with an application process for allocating the money.
Commissioners showed interest in programs that address chronic absenteeism and help reduce truancy rates in schools, as well as organizations that work with workforce development. Kirkpatrick also suggested funding pre-kindergarten programs.
“We can start small and focus on the areas that overlap with social services,” Kirkpatrick said.
Members of the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, which provides workforce development and training, spoke in favor of the ordinance and outlined how these funds could help its mission.
One recipient of the training program called it “the rainbow at the end of his storm” and told commissioners the program helped him get back on his feet after being released from prison and experiencing homelessness.
Commissioners suggested each grant recipient should be required to come before the commission every 90 days to show how the money is being spent.
It wasn’t the only sales tax the commission approved Tuesday.
Commissioners also voted 6-1 to make permanent a quarter-cent sales tax for water and wastewater projects, which has generated $1.5 billion since 1999. Segerblom was opposed.
While the tax isn’t expected to sunset until 2025, John Enstminger, the general manager with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, argued that it is better to move forward on extending the tax, which would aid the authority as it plans new projects.