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Russell, Lauzen still at odds over coroner’s hiring request

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 6:35 a.m. CST

GENEVA – While Kane County is gradually piecing its 2014 budget together, the County Board and the county’s coroner continue to struggle to resolve differences over the coroner’s request to hire two new deputies.

Monday, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell presented a budget request again to the Kane County Board’s Finance Committee, reiterating his desire to add to his staff to meet the demands he believes his office is obligated to fulfill.

The budget request is Russell’s first since he was elected by county voters in November.

Discussion of Russell’s request came at the end of a series of budget presentations from other county offices and departments. Changes to those budgets yielded a savings of about $514,000 next year, which county officials believe could be used to help fund raises for county employees.

Russell asked the committee to sign off on an annual budget for his office of $886,000, which would mark an increase of about 17 percent from last year’s $757,000.

Russell said the increase is needed to reorganize work shifts and respond to recent unionization of the deputy coroners.

Russell said he believes hiring the deputies would save the county about $24,000 next year versus paying existing deputy coroners to handle after-hours calls.

Russell said hiring more deputies would cost an additional $163,000, compared to $187,000 to pay current deputies a $100 a day on-call fee plus overtime for actual hours worked.

Russell said he believed the $886,000 budget had been backed by a county financial advisory panel, because it represented a reduction from the $943,000 budget Russell had originally requested in mid-August.

The finance committee expressed no opposition to the $886,000 figure Aug. 28, when County Finance Director Joe Onzick indicated that Russell agreed to remove raises for current staff from the proposal.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen disagreed with Russell’s characterization of the budget talks, saying the $886,000 figure “had never been approved.”

He said Russell did not present his budget request in the correct format, while chiding Russell for not discussing the request with county finance officials before presenting it to the board.

“He is saying, ‘I’m an elected official, I know best,’ ” Lauzen said after the meeting. “But, no. Once you have your budget, then you do know best.”

Lauzen also questioned the need for two new deputy coroners and the “assumptions” that undergirded Russell’s request.

The committee also questioned Russell, asking, among other questions, whether the $100 a day on-call payment was necessary.

The committee opted to kick discussion of Russell’s staffing needs to the County Board’s Judicial and Public Safety Committee later this month.

Lauzen said he believed Russell and the board can reach agreement. But he said Russell will first need to open his office and operations to the board so they can decide if Russell’s request is justified.

“I insist on getting information,” Lauzen said. “I’m not taking anyone’s word for it.”

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