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Kane County Board OKs coroner’s budget request

GENEVA – Following the Kane County Board’s unanimous approval Tuesday of his request for extra funds, Coroner Rob Russell said he was disappointed that Chairman Chris Lauzen took the opportunity to misrepresent and “browbeat” him.

“It just shows his ignorance of what it is we do,” Russell said.

The board approved amending the 2013 fiscal budget by about $88,000 to cover shortfalls in the areas of autopsies, toxicology, overtime and fuel costs.

But before the vote Lauzen presented several slides addressing such topics as the coroner’s budget for the next three years, the recent mishap with a morgue freezer and ideas for moving forward.

Quoting from multiple newspaper articles about the broken freezer, Lauzen criticized Russell for using the late November incident as a way to advance his budget position.

The coroner’s budget has been an issue of contention between the elected officials. Russell originally presented a 2014 request for more than $900,000, up from $757,000 under the previous administration.

The parties have reached a compromise of $843,000 for the next three years. Russell said the increase will address his immediate concerns, such as payroll and autopsies.

In his slides, Lauzen said preventive maintenance rather than publicity could have been Russell’s primary focus. He asserted a year is enough time to inventory equipment and perform maintenance.

Russell said he is sorry the broken freezer caused a black eye to the county, but he doesn’t intend to conceal the conditions.

“We’re done hiding behind things that aren’t true,” he said. “I’m not going to hide behind some facade.”

Moving forward, Lauzen listed several proposals, including reevaluating the cost of autopsies, reviewing autopsies and defining the coroner’s investigation role with law enforcement.

Russell said he has nothing to hide regarding the autopsies, because the reasons for each are documented.

“If they want to challenge me on that, that’s fine,” Russell said.

As for the coroner’s investigative role, Russell said he was puzzled by what Lauzen meant. There is no conflict between his office and law enforcement, he said, noting his office focuses on the cause of death while police deal with the circumstances around it.

Russell said he intends to use the next year to educate people about the coroner’s office.

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