Lauzen, Russell in budget impasse as deadline approaches
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Kane County Board members approved a full preliminary budget Tuesday for public review but with one major asterisk: Coroner Rob Russell decried a "compromise" budget for his office — made without his input — as unworkable.
Lauzen and Russell failed to agree on a budget for the coroner's office in time for Tuesday's full county board vote on the 2014 budget. The budget now goes on display for 30 days of public review and comment before the board locks in the final numbers.
If nothing changes in the next 30 days, Russell said he will enter 2014 with a budget that won't allow him to complete the basic tasks of his office, such as autopsies and paying his employees.
Lauzen brought forward a budget Tuesday that deletes Russell's plan to hire two new employees to cut overtime costs. Lauzen's budget also gives the coroner's office less money than Russell believes it needs to conduct autopsies.
The difference between what Russell wants and Lauzen is willing to give him is about $50,000.
In an interview, Russell said he was not invited to a meeting Monday where Lauzen and Finance Director Joe Onzick developed their final version of what Russell's budget should be. Russell said Lauzen's budget puts his office in danger of not being able to pay the on-call, per diem amounts his employees receive for work done after hours.
That per diem was a contentious issue under former Coroner Chuck West. West was indicted on unrelated charges and later died before his term in office expired. Russell was elected in November. The coroner's deputies have formed a union that wants the per diem expenses addressed as it negotiates its first contract with the county.
"I had thought we agreed the per diem was a legally mandated expense," Russell said. "I'm not sure what changed."
Lauzen pitched the coroner's budget to the full county as a "compromise" plan, but Russell told the board that's not his point of view.
"If the question is can I make it work, the answer to that is no," Russell said. "I look at the budget as neither reasonable nor a compromise."
Lauzen, however, drew a line and told board members if they disagreed with his plan, then they should vote down the entire 2014 county board budget.
That didn't happen.
Board members supported Lauzen's plan and committed to exploring the staffing and autopsy costs of the coroner's office back in committee. It's unclear if there is enough time to reach a new number with Russell before the November deadline to implement a final 2014 county budget.
Russell said if his budget is not increased, he will come to the county board in the middle of 2014 to ask for supplemental funding.
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