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Clay County Sheriff: County commission deliberately underfunds office

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Posted at 10:41 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 09:42:39-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Clay County Sheriff Paul Vescovo said the county commission won't give him the money he needs to run his office.

The Clay County Commission passed its 2020 budget Thursday and Vescovo was not happy with the outcome.

"The decrease in the Sheriff's Office budget for 2020 has yet again placed Sheriff Paul Vescovo in a difficult position to make public safety decisions," his office said in a statement. "Sheriff Vescovo will be forced to make critical decisions with minimal resources available. The mindset surrounding the conscience effort to place the Sheriff's Office in this situation is deeply disturbing.''

Vescovo has taken his battle with the commission, specifically Commissioners Gene Owen and Luann Ridgeway, to court over their vote to cut funding for the county jail.

An appeals court issued a strongly worded ruling that the commission must properly fund the jail.

Ridgeway and Owen are appealing that decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Jerry Nolte, the third member of the commission who supports providing more money for the sheriff's office, has called on Ridgeway and Owen to resign.

"It's a bad situation,'' Nolte said by phone Thursday night.

Vescovo said after the budget vote that the actions of Ridgeway and Owen are a deliberate assault on his office.

"The action of underfunding the Sheriff's Office remarkably appears to be a part of an elaborate effort to demoralize the employees of the Sheriff's Office,'' the sheriff's office said in its statement. "However, despite the decisions to intentionally underfund the Sheriff's Office, the men and women of the Clay County Sheriff's Office remain as dedicated and committed to the residents of Clay County as we have ever been. Our resolve has only become for fixed in the face of these deliberate actions.''

41 Action News reached out to Ridgeway for comment, but did receive a reply.

Audit delays, in part because of probes by a private audit contracted by the county*, also have put federal grant money for the Clay County Sheriff's Office drug task force at risk.

*Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly attributed audit delays to the Missouri state auditor's office.