Valdosta Daily Times

November 16, 2013

Coroner responds to county budget issues

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA —  Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson explained Friday that comments calling him one of the county budget’s “worst offenders” did not explain why his office’s expenses change from year to year.

“I have no control over the number of people that dies each year,” Watson told The Times, “and I have to fund the transportation for autopsies. Any time there is an autopsy, it costs my office about $750.”

These costs include the expense of having a body transported to a State Crime Lab for an autopsy and other fees.

Watson estimates his office answers an average of 250 deaths per year in Lowndes County. These deaths range from natural causes, accidents, homicides, unexplained circumstances, etc. Not all deaths are autopsied.

The coroner said the number of deaths requiring an autopsy to determine the cause of death changes from year to year. Though he did not have numbers immediately available Friday, Watson said the number of autopsies traditionally reaches into the double digits annually. The coroner also does not determine which cases receive an autopsy. An investigating law-enforcement agency determines which bodies are transported to the Crime Lab for autopsy.

During the Lowndes County Commission retreat Thursday, commissioners discussed the county’s budget. In a story reported Friday in The Times, a county official said, “One of the worst offenders is the coroner; he is over everywhere,” referring to budget overruns. Though not published in Friday’s story, Lowndes County Manager Joe Pritchard also said regarding the coroner’s budget: “So many deaths are moved there ... we don’t know the number exactly, but we try to assess it the best we can.”

For the purpose of budgeting the coroner’s office, Pritchard said Friday, the county must try predicting the number of bodies that must be transported each year for autopsies. They look at the past transport numbers to help make this determination, but an increase in requested autopsies can cause the coroner’s office to go over budget.

As coroner, Watson noted his official office is a small room housed in Remerton City Hall, thanks to the City of Remerton and a state grant. He has no office assistance; no paid staff.

He is not issued a county car. Instead, Watson said, he receives reimbursement for travel expenses within the county that must cover his gas, car insurance and vehicle maintenance. If he must travel outside of Lowndes County for training or on other official business, Watson receives no reimbursement.