Kane Coroner Russell, Chairman Lauzen reach deal on spending
Kane County Coroner Rob Russell and county board Chairman Chris Lauzen appear to have made up, with both saying Friday they had reached a compromise over Russell's request for more money in his current budget.
And County Clerk Jack Cunningham is responsible for the accord.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall save the taxpayers a lot of money," Lauzen told the board's judicial and public safety committee Friday, after it approved Russell's request for an extra $87,927 to finish out the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Nov. 30.
"It's not me against him. Because when we do that, the taxpayers lose," Russell said.
Lauzen announced a deal had been worked out for a flat budget of $843,000 for the coroner for each of the next three years, not including any additional costs that may arise from a union contract being negotiated with deputy coroners or changes in state law. The 2014 budget called for $817,830 for the coroner's office.
Lauzen and Russell have been at odds since the summer over how much money the coroner needs. In early October, when the county board adopted the 2014 budget, Russell said it was unrealistic because the office is performing more autopsies and because of a change in how deputies were paid for after-hours calls. They were receiving stipends but now get overtime.
Russell accused the chairman of wanting the coroner to investigate fewer deaths.
In late October, Russell's supplemental budget request was pulled off the judicial and public safety committee agenda at the last minute. Lauzen said it was so large and unexpected that the county auditor and the county's finance director should vet it. It was his second attempt to get the auditor to look at the coroner's office's spending and practices.
But Cunningham thought he could help. The clerk hosts a monthly luncheon for elected department heads. It was there he offered to mediate the dispute, according to Lauzen. Russell and Lauzen were amenable.
Cunningham could not be reached for comment Friday.
Russell also thanked auditor Terry Hunt "for his good counsel in his reports that helped demonstrate this office was truly in need of additional finances to overcome past challenges."
Both Lauzen and Russell thanked each other. But Lauzen noted arithmetic mistakes in the resolution Russell presented; Russell noted that Lauzen had given an inaccurate description of the approximate cost of an autopsy.
Russell also made the case, again, to the committee, that the budgets of past few years should be viewed skeptically. He said he suspects former Coroner Chuck West was distracted by his terminal illness and the criminal and civil charges brought against him alleging mishandling of a dead person's belongings.
Russell said autopsies weren't being done on people suspected of dying of heroin overdoses, unlike in the coroner's offices of the other collar counties, leading to a historically low number of autopsies. A former interim coroner reported finding homicide evidence from several cases jumbled in an unlocked freezer.
And now, local hospitals have stopped doing free X-rays for autopsies, which will add up to $18,000 a year to the office's costs, Russell said.
"It's been a Pandora's box of issues," Russell said.