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County autopsy budget climbing

An increase in deaths associated with opioid overdoses has pushed the financial boundaries of Warren County government’s autopsy budget of $55,000.

“I think that $55,000 should be increased,” said Commissioner Tommy Savage, when members of the county Budget and Finance Committee reviewed the proposed budget for Warren County Temporary Morgue for fiscal year 2021-22. “I’m not for spending money, but when it’s obvious you’re going to go over, it’s time to increase it.”

Budgeted in 2020-21 was $55,000 for autopsies. When committee members met at the end of April to review the proposed budget for next fiscal year, $46,999 had been spent with at least two months remaining until the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

“This year, the number of autopsies ordered has definitely gone up,” said Warren County EMS director Preston Denney. “That number can fluctuate, but it’s probably not going to drop.”

Commissioner Scott Rubley asked, “Was this an unusual year or has it been just trending upwards?”

According to Finance Department director Justin Cotten, $50,000 was spent in 2019-20 and if the upward trend continues for the first nine months of fiscal year 2021-22, the dollar amount is likely to hit $75,000 or $80,000.

Cotten also stated, “Commissioner Savage isn’t wrong. It is trending up. If the committee wants to put more money in there it will only be spent if the court orders them.”

“The District Attorney’s Office is ordering more and more autopsies,” said County Executive Jimmy Haley. “Anything that’s suspected of a drug overdose, they are ordering it. It’s in preparation of data for our opioid lawsuit.” 

Budget and Finance Committee members voted 4-1 to approve the proposed budget as presented. Commissioners Rubley, Cole Taylor, Christy Ross and Randy England voted in favor, while Savage maintained the $55,000 budget for autopsies needs to be increased. 

“If the people ordering them were paying it they wouldn’t order them as much,” said Taylor.

Haley replied, “We don’t have a choice. We have to pay it.” 

The proposed budget was approved as presented.