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Our View: The need for true consensus

A County Board chairman who says he must diligently scrutinize budget requests in order to keep the property tax levy frozen.

A county coroner who has requested a budget amendment for 2013 because of – what he says mainly is – an increase in the number of needed autopsies compared to what was originally anticipated, as well as staff funding changes.

Both officeholders are relatively new in their positions.

The first campaigned last year with the goal of freezing the property tax levy.

The second campaigned on a promise to professionalize the coroner’s office, which had seen distress after the former coroner – now deceased – was charged with official misconduct.

Despite ongoing talks at a variety of levels and efforts by both men to come to a consensus on the coroner’s supplemental budget request, no solution has been agreed upon. Each disputes some of the aspects that have led to this point, and each wants to hold true to what he conveyed to constituents during the election.

We side with Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen in challenging requested budget increases. Any public official tasked with budget oversight should question the need for additional dollars and examine whether alternative measures are possible.

But Coroner Rob Russell also has a job to do – and, in some cases, he is mandated by statute to make sure his office oversees that specific tasks are performed, such as the autopsying of bodies when certain types of death occur.

In addition, the coroner must make the determination in many instances as to whether an autopsy is performed. And Russell says there were heroin-related deaths in Kane County before he took office in which autopsies were not performed when they should have been.

So, what is the dollar amount the two officials are disputing? It’s just under $88,000.

Add that figure to the original 2013 budget total for Russell’s office and it equates to about $845,000, which is more or less about 1/250 of the overall county budget for this year.

Project a slightly higher figure for 2014 – which Russell has requested – and is that enough to undue the frozen property tax levy? We’re not so sure it is.

And Russell doesn’t think so, stating that the argument “doesn’t hold water.”

But has Russell explored every last nook and cranny of his 2013 budget to make sure he needs all of the $88,000 he has requested in supplemental funds? Is he at a point where he can do no more to satisfy the demands of Lauzen? Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s difficult to discern, as it appears communication has melted down between the chairman and the coroner, although Lauzen says, “There has been an enormous effort to communicate with Rob.”

A disconnect exists here. And looming in the shadowy background is the memory of a similar dispute – that between former Kane County Circuit Clerk Deborah Seyller and the county. In that case, Seyller filed suit against the board, board members and the county, asking a judge to force the board to provide certain funding she requested. 

The end result? A settled lawsuit that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A situation like the one described above needs to be avoided at all costs.

It’s time for the chairman and coroner to sit down with open minds – and with or without whatever third parties they deem appropriate – to settle the supplemental budget issue and reach a true consensus.

Regardless of what already has occurred at this point, we call on Lauzen as the top leader of county government to extend such an invitation to Russell as soon as possible.

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