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Kane County Board, coroner again at odds over budget

GENEVA – Kane County Coroner Rob Russell believes he needs more money this year to pay for the work his office already has conducted in 2013, including death investigations, autopsies and toxicology tests.

However, the Kane County Board, led by Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, has asked him to again justify his request before they will sign off on increasing the money he can receive.

On Friday, the Kane County Board’s Judicial and Public Safety Committee opted not to act on the budget request from Russell, as well as other budget requests from the county’s judiciary and Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez, until the requests can be reviewed by the county’s chief financial officer and Auditor Terry Hunt.

The demand from the Kane County Board is unusual.

In the past, elected officials like Russell and Perez typically have worked with the County Board to craft an annual budget, and are then free, under state law, to run their offices generally as they see fit. 

However, those officials can come to the County Board with what are known as supplemental budget requests – essentially, asking the board to pay for cost overruns or unexpected expenses.

This year, for instance, Perez submitted a supplemental budget request of $152,000 to pay for the cost of fuel, because the County Board, when it crafted the 2013 budget in late 2012, set the amount budgeted for fuel at $263,000 – almost $192,000 less than what the sheriff’s office had estimated it would need for fuel this year.

Similarly, Russell said the County Board had set the 2013 budget for his office too low, not properly budgeting for the cost of autopsies and other activities related to death investigations.

He said, for instance, that the county had budgeted enough money for 103 autopsies this year. But Russell said he has already performed more than 140 autopsies, and expects yet more in the final weeks of the year.

He asked the County Board for about $88,000 more.

In years past, such requests were typically paid by the County Board. On Friday, however, the board and Lauzen demanded Russell and the others meet with the county’s “financial professionals” to determine the need and perhaps seek alternatives.

Following the meeting, Lauzen said it will be the policy going forward for all supplemental requests, and particularly ones he called “budget busters.”

The new requirement also comes amid continued rancor between Lauzen and Russell over the coroner’s budget for 2014. Russell asked the county to give him money for more deputy coroners and for more anticipated death investigations. Lauzen has balked at the requests.

“We’re going to ask you to justify it,” Lauzen said. “Are all these autopsies necessary? Maybe they are. Are all these toxicology tests necessary? Maybe they are. 

“But now that he [Russell] has requested more money than what he was budgeted, it’s up to the board to decide what to spend.”

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