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Coroner asks for more funding, salary increase

Harrison County Coroner Rusty Sizemore admonished the Harrison County Council last week for the funding the coroner receives.
‘I really think the commissioners and council should be ashamed for the way we have to operate,’ Sizemore said Tuesday evening. ‘If I was a quitter, I would have quit weeks ago.’
Sizemore said the council allotted $20,000 for autopsies, but he has already spent all of that and needs another $20,000. He said $20,000 pays for about 13 autopsies.
‘We’ve had 23 deaths this month alone; 71 for the year,’ he said. ‘That’s four a week.’
Sizemore, who is in his second year of his second term, said, when he was elected to the position in 2008, the county averaged about 60 deaths for an entire year. He said the only deaths his office does not respond to are ones at assisted-living facilities and nursing homes.
‘Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, 24-hours a day, we’re on call,’ he said.
The coroner typically relies on unpaid part-time volunteer deputy coroners; however, Sizemore said he currently has no help.
Sizemore compared the coroner’s budget ($60,000) with that of animal control ($160,000).
‘I think we care more about the animals than our loved ones and family,’ he said, adding that both departments are important to the county.
Sizemore said it’s time the council steps up and brings the coroner salary up to where it needs to be.
Council Chair Gary Davis said, as an elected official, Sizemore’s salary could not be altered until 2014.
Councilman Phil Smith said Sizemore’s salary was increased a lot more last year than the 2 percent most everyone else received.
The council advised Sizemore to go to the commissioners to ask for a specific request for $20,000 for autopsy fees and the salary issue would have to be discussed during budget talks in late summer.
With the annual budget workshop nearing, the council last week approved a letter to be sent out to all department heads concerning the 2014 budget. All budget requests must be turned in to the auditor’s office by July 1 as the council plans to start the budget process in August.
The letter, compiled by Smith, said the council will limit additionals to those that are a real emergency and will not provide funding for additional employees or for longevity pay for elected officials.
‘This year, we face several issues that will affect our budgets in a big way,’ it reads. ‘The PERF percentage has been increased to 14.2 percent, the county pays its required portion of 11.2 percent, plus the county also pays the 3 percent employee portion. Health care is a big issue, but at this time we do not know the cost.’
Due to the Affordable Health Care Act, Smith said the council will not know the cost until September; he asked the department heads to use figures from 2013 plus 15 percent.
The letter was unanimously approved and was placed in employees’ checks last week.
Davis updated the council about Harrison County Hospital and said he spoke with three board members and HCH CEO Steve Taylor, who said he’ll bring up the issue of presenting an update on the hospital’s finances at the next HCH board meeting, which will be June 19.
From a taxpayer’s view, Smith said, it would be nice to know how the hospital is doing financially after $8 million of county funds was given to HCH for debt reduction.
Councilman Richard Gerdon said that since the commissioners appoint board members to the HCH’s board, they should be the ones to request the financial information.
The council appointed Councilwoman Sherry Brown to a personnel policy committee along with one commissioner, Auditor Karen Engleman and county attorney Chris Byrd.
Boone Township Volunteer Fire Dept. Chief Jeff Hess requested $250,000 for a new fire truck for 2014 as part of the county’s ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the county’s fire chiefs association to spend $500,000 per year for county fire departments. The fire chiefs association must decide which department needs funding the most.
Hess said they won’t need the money until 2014, but he wants to get the truck ordered and built before next year when more stringent emissions regulations are put in to place.
The council had no problem with the request.
‘If we had to appropriate the money this year, that’d give us some heartburn,’ Davis said.
The council’s next meeting will be Monday 7 p.m. at the Government Center in Corydon.