Coroners Ask For Bump In Rate During Budget Talks
MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County’s coroners told legislators they are in need of a raise during budget discussion Tuesday in Mayville.
All four county coroners spoke before the Audit and Control and Administrative Services committees during the budget review process to discuss their current fees and desired increase. The coroner’s role includes confirming and certifying the deaths of individuals.
Warren Riles, Chautauqua County coroner, said the coroners came to the meeting to bring a specific request to the table: an increase and change in fee structure. Riles said he was first appointed in 1975 and the per diem rate at that time was $27.37.
At present, the fee being paid to a Chautauqua County coroner is $80 per day for a 24-hour period.
“We’re out two, three or four times a day, depending on the situation,” Riles said. “We’re not making very much money. We’re actually making below minimum wage.”
After visiting the New York State Association of County Coroners, Riles said he and his colleague, Larry Wilcox, discovered some counties pay up to $200 per case.
“This is all per case, not per diem,” Riles said. “Tioga County pays their coroner $100 per regular case, and $150 for an autopsy case.”
Livingston County pays coroners $175 per case; Steuben County pays coroners $200 per case and Chenango County pays coroners $125 per case plus $50 thereafter, according to Riles.
The coroners then asked the committee to consider a change in fee structure to $150 per case instead of the current rate of pay at $80 per day.
Some committee members asked if the coroners had asked counties in the Western New York area what their fees were, including Cattaraugus County. Riles said the big cities are different, but they had not asked other counties in the immediate area.
Cassandra Brigham, Chautauqua County coroner, said currently, she has handled 200 cases. Some cases, however, can take multiple days, such as if toxicology reports are necessary and they fall on a weekend when the Postal Services are not accessible to send samples. Other services are needed afterward to make sure necessary signatures and the proper paperwork are filed in the proper places.
Riles said he has been out on the New York state Thru-way for hours on end and Wilcox said there have been times when he has worked for 30 hours straight. In addition, Brigham said some of the houses the coroners have gone into, especially in Jamestown, can be places that people “wouldn’t even want to put your foot across the threshold.”
Administrative Services Chairman Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, said he and the rest of the committee are grateful for the efforts put forth by the coroners and appreciates what they do. He said he could not give an answer on the matter yet, but understands the concerns of the coroners.
“I think we all understand that you don’t get called out at 2 and sign off at 5 and it’s off until the next day,” Scudder said. “There’s nothing that happens that way, especially with what you’re dealing with.”
Chautauqua County coroners handled 866 cases in 2016.