The Ups and Downs of a Coroner’s Budget and Calls

LOWNDES, WINSTON, and NOXUBEE COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) – Death is unpredictable, which is why coroners work around the clock.

They also work on a budget provided by the county and depending on the number of deaths, depends on how the budget looks.

Coroners respond to a different amount of calls in each county and the bigger the county, the more deaths.

Death is caused by different reasons and can strike at anytime, anywhere.

“You really can’t budget for death. I mean, you don’t how many people, and take for instance 2014, when the tornado came through, we weren’t expecting that. We had ten deaths from that,” says Winston County Coroner Scott Gregory.

That unknown is what causes budgets to go up and down for coroners across the state.

“When you’re looking at the budgets across the state, everybody seems to be in a crunch and you know, it’s a trickle down effect. When the state gets cut in different spots, the counties get cut. They can’t get the money and I understand completely why I don’t have the money that other coroners may have to do what we’re doing,” says Gregory.

The Lowndes County Coroner’s budget is double the size of Winston County’s, but regardless, death isn’t cheap no matter how big of a budget.

“The transportation comes out of our budget. The autopsy fees come out of our budget. Salaries come out of the budget, so and then, we maintain a facility here, that a lot of counties don’t maintain, you know, we have a new cooler here,” says Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant.

One autopsy costs coroners a thousand dollars, but only certain deaths, like murder, require one.

“You don’t want to hurt the taxpayers. The autopsy, you know, just an autopsy for no reason, when you know you can really, really, know the cause of death from medical records, any other such, you know, investigations bring you to a conclusion of your investigation. We try to do as little autopsies as we have to because we don’t want to put a burden on the county,” says Noxubee County Coroner R.L. Calhoun.

Coroners say they’re responding to more and more calls every year.

So far this year, the Lowndes County Coroner has responded to 350 calls, which is 50 more than this time last year.

One reason is more people are choosing to spend their final days at home.

“When I first came in office, we really had one hospice company that covered this area and now, we have six or seven and so there’s more home deaths. There’s more death that occurs outside the medical facility, so that factors into our numbers. It’s not all violent death,” says Merchant.

All three coroners say natural deaths are the leading number of calls.

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