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updated: 10/31/2013 6:56 PM

Kane chairman sticking to guns on vetting of coroner increase

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Kane County Coroner Rob Russell is disputing the notion he didn't give the county board adequate warning that his office was going to exceed its budget.

Russell said Wednesday he has told the judicial and public safety committee about the problem since at least March. The committee's minutes reflect Russell told the committee about the increased number of autopsies performed -- compared to the previous year -- at the February, March, April, May, June, July and September meetings, and specifically mentioned he would be over budget because of that at the March, April, May and June meetings. County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen attended all those meetings, according to the minutes. Russell also told the county board in October, when it adopted the tentative 2014 budget, that it wasn't allotting enough money to his office. He had asked for a 25 percent increase.

The matter came up again Wednesday at a finance committee meeting, after Lauzen spoke about why Russell's request for extra money for his 2013 budget was being delayed. The committee also tabled requests from the sheriff for more money for fuel, and one from the chief judge for more money for several things.

Lauzen said the matter won't come up for a vote until it is reviewed by the county auditor and the finance director. It is what he told the judicial and public safety committee last week, when the three supplemental budget requests were pulled off the agenda at the last minute.

Finance committee member Rebecca Gillam asked about the procedure for approving supplemental budget requests, saying she was confused. Earlier in the meeting, the committee tabled a vote on two such requests, from the sheriff and the chief judge. Committee chairman John Hoscheit explained that since the judicial and public safety committee hadn't made recommendations, he didn't think it was appropriate for the finance committee to vote on them.

Lauzen then reiterated his contention the coroner's request needed more vetting.

"It is an important discussion for all of us when there are overages that we take the time to do the proper study," he said. He said the offices of the chief judge and sheriff initially presented their requests in the spring, but that the coroner didn't. In June, he convinced county board members that the judiciary and sheriff requests should be postponed until later in the year, when there were firmer numbers available about overages and about what money could be found elsewhere in those departments' budgets to cover them.

"But now, five weeks before (the end of the year)," the coroner is wanting "10 times more" than what he said he wanted in June, Lauzen said.

Last week, Russell and Lauzen disagreed about whether the coroner had supplied adequate reasoning for his request for more 2013 money and in time for the judicial and public safety committee to study it before their meeting. Lauzen said the document was handed out at the meeting; Russell showed it had been emailed to Lauzen's office four days before the meeting, and sent to several other officials, including the committee chairman, the next day.

Lauzen said the county auditor and the county's finance director should review such requests, which was not done under the previous administration. Earlier this year, Lauzen had suggested the auditor and finance staff review the operations of the coroner's office to look for efficiencies.

Auditor Terry Hunt said last Friday he had met with Lauzen and the finance director to discuss the coroner's request. Russell said this week he tried to meet with Hunt Monday, but that Hunt canceled the meeting.

The supplemental budget resolutions will likely be presented at the Nov. 22 judicial and public safety committee meeting unless a special meeting is called before then. It could then pass recommendations to the finance committee, and that committee could then make recommendations to the executive committee at its December meeting, which could then pass the matter on to the full county board in mid-December.

The county's fiscal year ends Nov. 30.

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