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updated: 1/31/2014 4:31 PM

Russell wants part of $8.8 million surplus to buy new morgue

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  • The Kane County morgue is a repurposed facility that dates back to the days when the government center was a monastery. Coroner Rob Russell wants to build a new morgue.

      The Kane County morgue is a repurposed facility that dates back to the days when the government center was a monastery. Coroner Rob Russell wants to build a new morgue.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
 

When Kane County Chairman Chris Lauzen looks at the $19,632 cost overrun in Coroner Rob Russell's office, he sees spending that is about 20 percent more than Russell's predecessor's.

When Russell looks at that dollar figure, he sees a number that is about 450 times less than the county's $8.8 million expected budget surplus.

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"What was all the fuss about?" Russell asked, in a written statement he released Thursday, after comparing the numbers.

The cost overruns for employees' salaries and autopsies in Russell's office have been a budgetary bruise Lauzen has poked several times in public forums. He's gone as far as to say the county board "really needs to help" Russell run his office.

In an interview Friday, Russell said the only thing he needs help with is his facility.

It would only take a fraction of the county's budget surplus to build him a modern facility free of problems such as failing morgue freezers, Russell said. The county's unaudited surplus stands at about $8.8 million.

Russell said the coroner facility in Kankakee costs about $1 million and is light-years ahead of Kane County's facility. But to confirm that price, and the need, Russell said he is recruiting a "coroner's assessment team" of several other coroners, members of the funeral industry and a member from the public at large to assess his infrastructure.

"I think it needs to come from someone else other than me," Russell said. "When I speak, a lot of the time it seems to fall on deaf ears. Maybe people think I'm not objective enough."

John Hoscheit, the chairman of the county board's finance committee, said the board is at least two steps away from even considering a new facility for Russell.

The county board has not had any discussions about what to do with the surplus funds. That discussion won't begin until an audit confirms the surplus. The next step after that will be updating the to-do list of capital projects in the county. That list is being formed by Lauzen, Hoscheit said.

"Historically, what we've done is allocated surplus funds toward capital projects," Hoscheit said. "The coroner's project is just one of many that we have to consider prioritizing."

Competing interests might include an expansion of the county's judicial campus, including a parking garage and moving the circuit court clerk's office to the campus.

The county also ended the 2012 fiscal year under former county Chairman Karen McConnaughay with a $7.6 million surplus. The county board used most of the money for capital projects but did earmark nearly half of the total for employees' raises and pension funding.

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