Clay County is pledging $500,000 over two years to build a Law Enforcement Memorial Garden in Kansas City, Missouri, despite concerns over the budget.
The Clay County Commissioners voted 2-1 today in favor of the funding the memorial in a contentious meeting. Critics worried about pledging money before the 2020 budget process and donating to the memorial after reducing funding to the sheriff’s office.
The elephant in the room was the current petition — which garnered more than 9,000 signatures — to audit the county’s finances and operations following concerns about transparency and failing to pay bills on time.
“I don’t understand how you can begin to suggest a half a million dollar donation at this time,” Sam Scarfino said. He helped gather signatures for the petition.
It wasn’t clear at the meeting which fund the commissioners wanted to use for the donation. Clay County assessor Cathy Rinehart said if commissioners used the technology fund for the donation, there wouldn’t be enough money in the fund for both the donation to the memorial and software maintenance, the fund’s intended purpose. “How wasteful can we be? ” Rinehart told KCUR. “...the money would be better spent making the county function.” Clay County Collector Lydia McEvoy said the commission had the funds for the memorial in a separate fund but she wouldn’t know until the commissioners wrote the check which fund they planned to use.
Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte voted against the measure. He said while he supported the memorial, it didn’t make sense to fund it when the commission voted in December to cut funding to the sheriff’s office.
“It feels as though we are memorializing the fallen heroes at the expense of our current heroes who are out there right now, today risking their lives for us,” Nolte said.
Nolte also said he didn’t want to commit the county to paying money in 2020 before that year’s budget is created.
The Law Enforcement Memorial Garden would honor law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty and be built behind the Kansas City Regional Police Academy, according to the memorial’s website. Kansas City, Missouri First District Councilwoman Heather Hall has spearheaded the memorial’s creation.
“Good grief, if the county where the thing is located, where the memorial is located isn’t willing to stand behind it, not only with words but with some financial incentive, then I don’t understand how councilwoman Hall could go forward and ask for other people to support something that our own county would be unwilling to support,” Clay County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway said.
Scarfino, who helped gather signatures for an audit of the county, agreed with the purpose behind the memorial but he said the county should not fund it.
He said the commissioners ignored contingent liabilities, like lawsuits, that would affect the county’s budget.
“If you continue to do what you’ve been doing in the past you’re going to end up with the same thing you have right now — a hell of a mess within the courthouse.”
Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:06 a.m. Tuesday with comments from Clay County Collector Lydia McEvoy.