LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A conservative think tank released a study Tuesday that it said shows Las Vegas police employee salaries are inflated, and called for state lawmakers to ban the use of taxpayer money to pay police officers doing union business.
The Nevada Policy Research Institute posted the annual survey on its website, TransparentNevada.com, and released a statement blaming the police officers' union for departmental budget problems.
"Even a casual glance ... shows that excessive salaries are behind Metro's budget difficulties," NPRI President Andy Matthews said. He said departmental-paid union leave time accounts for $1.8 million of the department's nearly $503 million budget.
Las Vegas Police Protective Association and Las Vegas police officials didn't immediately respond to messages.
The release of salary information comes with Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, the elected head Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, asking the state Legislature to authorize a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2004 to hire more officers.
Gillespie has pointed to a drop in property tax revenues since the Great Recession and sought flexibility to address what he called a "structural deficit" in his department budget.
Clark County and cities have supported the call for the quarter-cent tax hike. State lawmakers have the final word.
Matthews said the Legislature should reject the tax hike and instead ban policies allowing for paid union leave time.
"Giving them flexibility won't result in more officers on the street," he said in an interview. He said the money would instead go toward "already bloated salaries."
An NPRI statement said Las Vegas police in 2012 were some of the highest compensated employees in southern Nevada, with 149 people taking home more than $200,000 in total compensation. One lieutenant received $354,000, an assistant sheriff received more than $294,000 and one captain received more than $585,000 in total earnings, according to the survey.
"These inflated salaries are the result of collective bargaining laws that favor politically powerful labor unions over the needs of taxpayers," Matthews said. He called the salaries "unsustainable."
Las Vegas police ended 2012 with 4,940 employees, including 2,549 sworn police officers, 764 corrections officers and 1,627 civilian workers. The number of police officers peaked earlier at almost 2,750, according to departmental figures.
The regional police agency covers a sprawling area almost the size of New Jersey that is home to 2 million residents and draws nearly 40 million visitors a year.
The Las Vegas-based institute is a non-profit advocate for free markets and limited government. It said the salary data was released during Sunshine Week, a nationwide effort March 10-16 that emphasizes governmental transparency.
TransparentNevada.com Las Vegas police salary survey: http://bit.ly/X3MYhk . Find Ken Ritter on Twitter: http://twitter.com/krttr .