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Article posted: 11/30/2013 8:00 AM

Freezer failure may jeopardize Kane coroner budget deal

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A tentative budget deal that would have ended financial squabbling between Kane County Coroner Rob Russell and county Chairman Chris Lauzen may be in jeopardy following a major equipment failure.

Coroner deputies discovered the freezer that maintains the integrity of bodies under investigation failed on Thanksgiving Day. To prevent decomposition, Russell authorized emergency repairs approaching $4,000.

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That's money he doesn't have. Russell's 2013 budget is already in the red pending an $88,000 supplemental cash infusion the county board will vote on in a couple of weeks.

The money was set to flow to Russell following several months of budget battles between Russell and Lauzen. Russell repeatedly said he didn't have enough money to perform even basic autopsies mandated by law. Lauzen said Russell had latitude, as the coroner, to only do as many autopsies as his budget allows.

The two recently agreed to a compromise that would give Russell enough money to pay his bills this year and a little more money in next year's budget. Russell would then have to keep expenses flat for the remainder of his first four years in office.

The freezer bill is a new monkey wrench in the tentative deal.

"After compromising with the chairman on the budget resolution, and the new 2014 recommended budget, I stated that I would stay within my allocated budget as long as the board understands that there are costs that are beyond my control," Russell said. "This is an example of what 'things I cannot control' means."

Russell said the freezer failure is a symptom of the overall poor quality of his facilities. The county board's Executive Committee will have to address Russell's new budget overage, and the possible impact to the overall budget deal, next week.

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