GREENFIELD — An increase in deaths requiring autopsies led county officials this week to appropriate a $20,600 boost to the Hancock County coroner’s dwindling budget.
While no representatives from the coroner’s office were at the meeting — Coroner Crystel Myers had put in the request but did not attend — Auditor Robin Lowder told county council members the budget for autopsies has about $4,000 remaining, and a bill for more than $11,000 needs to be paid.
The council moved to transfer $20,600 from the rainy day fund to the coroner’s budget. Lowder told the council members that amount should get the office through December based on numbers provided to her by Myers.
Last month, the council transferred $4,000 to a budget line that pays the coroner’s deputies.
It’s not the first time the coroner’s office has asked the county council to kick in additional funding. In June 2014, Myers asked the council for $20,000 to beef up funding for autopsies and staff (deputy coroners are paid $100 per death investigation). At the time, the office had gone through much of the $37,000 budgeted for those costs.
The county designated $35,000 for autopsies this year.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Lowder told council members they might need to consider allocating more money for autopsies in the future. The council already has denied Myers’ request for $15,000 in additional funding for 2016, meaning the coroner’s budget might well be in the same position a year from now, Lowder said, noting Myers’ predecessor also ran into budget woes.
Chief deputy coroner Rudy Nylund said the number of autopsies has increased in recent years. So far this year, the coroner’s office has authorized 31 autopsies and responded to 89 cases, compared with 2013 when it responded to about 65 cases.
The coroner requests an autopsy any time a death is a suspected overdose or the death was generally unexpected. One of every three coroner cases necessitates an autopsy, Nylund said.
The county uses a pathologist from Marion County to perform autopsies, and each autopsy costs the county about $2,000. Some cases require extra testing, which increases the bill, Nylund said. Additionally, the county rents an autopsy room and space at Erlewein Mortuary.
Lowder told council members the coroner said the office authorizes five to seven autopsies a month. The money transferred into the coroner’s account this week can be used to pay for only autopsies and storage fees.
“We have pretty well depleted all of her funds,” Lowder said. “We’ve got to move some money here. … We just want to make sure these people keep doing our autopsies.”
The money designated Wednesday should be enough to keep the office afloat during the next four months, Lowder said. In January, funding for 2016 will become available.