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Coroner tells council she's out of money

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GREENFIELD — County officials were concerned earlier this year the Hancock County coroner’s budget would need shoring up, and Tuesday, those worries were confirmed: They kicked in an additional $20,000 to the office’s accounts.

Coroner Crystel Myers told Hancock County Council members her department needed money to make deputy coroners’ payroll and buttress the line item for autopsies through the end of the year.

The county budgeted $57,030 for the coroner’s office this year, with $31,200 allocated for autopsies and $6,120 allotted for deputy coroners, who receive $100 per call, county records show.

However, Myers told the council this year’s autopsy budget was hit with a carry-over of approximately $10,000 from last year. Coupled with a very busy first quarter, that nearly depleted the money reserved for autopsies.

County records reviewed Thursday show only $1,310 remains in the coroner’s budget to cover the cost of autopsies through the remainder of the year.

In March, Chief Deputy Coroner Rudy Nylund alerted the council the office could be low on funds for autopsies and laboratory calls as the year went forward.

Last year, the coroner’s office responded to about 65 cases, but this year the count is already up to 50, Nylund said Thursday.

“We had a very busy January, February and March,” he said. “It’s settled down since that time, but I still project we will respond to between 80 and 90 cases this year.”

Compounding the increased caseload, Myers has restricted her activities at the office since her arrest in December on allegations that she and a second person were captured on surveillance video stealing two $50 toy trucks at the Greenfield Wal-Mart.

Myers has pleaded not guilty, but pending her trial, Nylund and two other deputies are responding to calls.

Last Friday, Myers submitted a $500 payroll claim to pay the deputies, but there was only $200 remaining in the budget to cover that expense, said county Auditor Robin Lowder.

In addition to moving funds within the office’s budget, the county council pledged $20,000 from the county’s food and beverage tax revenues as a stop-gap measure, with $15,000 earmarked for autopsies and the remaining $5,000 allocated for deputies’ pay.

“She’s not been making any calls, and that puts more work on the deputies,” said county council President Bill Bolander. “We suspected this might come up. I just think it’s slow management.”

Myers will update the council in September on her office’s finances, but Bolander said if more money is needed at that time the county has no alternative but to pay it.

“We can’t just not do it,” he said. “There are legal obligations involved.”

While paying some of the coroner’s bills can be delayed, state law mandates that deputy salaries and Myer’s part-time salary of $9,570 be paid on time, Lowder said.

As of Thursday, county records showed that Myers has received $4,416.72 of that salary to date.

Myers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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