The budget impasse between Kane County Coroner Rob Russell and county board Chairman Chris Lauzen intensified Monday as what seemed like a potential compromise crashed and burned in the details.
Russell came to a special meeting of the county board's Finance Committee to explain his request for a 17 percent increase in his expenses. He explained the costs are tied to employing two new deputies to handle after-hours death investigations.
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Hiring new deputies, Russell said, would be cheaper than paying existing staff overtime to cover those shifts.
The explanation was identical to a pitch for additional funds he's made throughout the budget process. Russell expected more success at the special meeting, however, because he'd agreed to forego about $50,000 in pay raises he originally budgeted for his staff.
Lauzen and committee members agreed that was a good start. But they said more proof is necessary before they would agree to a permanent 50 percent increase in the size of his deputy coroner staff. Russell's proposal would give him six deputies. He currently has four.
Russell brought charts showing that an increase in the county's population has led to an increase in the number of deaths and death investigations.
"It's a very simple budget," Russell said.
"I would dispute that," Lauzen countered. "That's an assertion without backup."
Lauzen and committee members said they weren't convinced there was no other way to cover all the shifts and investigations in the office without adding to the full-time staff. The hiring of part-time employees without benefits or contracting some investigations out to a private company were raised as potential cost-saving initiatives to explore.
The committee sent Russell back to a lower committee to provide a justification for the current management of his employees' time and duties before a vote will occur on his request for new employees.
One key issue is the inclusion of a $100 stipend Russell's deputies receive when they are on-call. They receive that money whether they are called to work or not.
After the meeting, Lauzen said there is nothing personal or political about his examination of Russell's budget.
"It's all about the money," Lauzen said. "I'm not going to take anyone's word for it during an appropriation process. The coroner is saying, 'I'm an elected official. I know best.' Well, no. When you get a majority vote on your budget, then you know best."
The comments come in reaction to Russell saying in an interview there may be some political backlash at work in the process. Lauzen was widely suspected of working against Russell in his campaign when a campaign consultant for Lauzen publicly supported Russell's opponent. Lauzen has denied working against Russell.
"This is not political," Lauzen reiterated. "We're of the same party, same philosophy."