The Ashtabula County Coroner’s Office, when compared to operations in similarly sized counties, is an expensive arm of county government.

The 2010 appropriations for Ashtabula County’s office are $184,756. The figure does not include the health insurance premiums for employees or autopsies ($48,000).

Coroner Dr. Robert Malinowski repeatedly has said his appropriations are insufficient, and his spending through June 30 bore out his argument. Malinowski had exhausted   69  percent  of

his appropriations and would require roughly $260,000 to fund his department at that spending level. He already has exhausted his autopsy appropriations, and bills are piling up for both autopsies and contract services, for which there is no money.

Elsewhere in Ohio, counties the size of Ashtabula are getting much more for their coroner’s budget dollar.

In Wood County, which had a 2000 population of 121,065, the coroner’s office is appropriated $159,747. The office has only one employee: a part-time secretary. The coroner handles all investigations and operates out of his own medical office, so that county’s commissioners do not pay rent. The appropriations figure does not include health insurance, as with Ashtabula County’s appropriations. However, it does include autopsies: $22,000.

Malinowski often is critical of the county commissioners’ staffing and budget, but the county appears to be in line with other counties its size. Ashtabula County commissioners have 6.5 employees (including the commissioners, no health insurance or retirement) and appropriations of $491,336, which includes legal advertising for other departments.

The Wood County commissioners’ office has 11 employees (including the elected officials) and annual appropriations of  $735,110 (not including health insurance).

Miami County is nearly identical to Ashtabula County in population, 101,065. The coroner, Dr. Bruce Nordquist, runs a one-man office. His 2010 appropriations are $138,748 after the budget cuts that commissioners implemented this year. That figure includes $70,000 for autopsies. The coroner receives the same salary as Dr. Robert Malinowski: $51,200.

Miami County’s commissioners office has a staff of five support persons and total appropriations of $730,753, including health insurance and retirement contributions for the staff and elected officials.

The population of Tuscarawas County, 91,348, is slightly below Ashtabula County’s. Their coroner was appropriated $170,935 this year, which includes the coroner’s salary of $41,165 and $31,254 for an assistant. It also includes $60,000 for contract services, mainly autopsies, and health insurance and retirement benefits.

Tuscarawas County’s commissioners office has three employees and total appropriations of $396,992, which includes elected officials’ salaries and health insurance and retirement contributions for all six workers.

Another way to compare coroner’s office operational costs across counties is to calculate a “cost per resident” figure. Geauga County systems administrator Dave Lair recently did a comparison using this approach and averaged budgets from 2006 to 2010, when available. The comparative analysis looked at 15 counties whose populations ranged from 22,908 to 170,000.

The range per resident was $1.21 in Delaware County to $4.46 in Geauga. Ashtabula County’s cost was second highest in the study, $3.20 per resident. However, it must be noted that the figure was based on higher appropriations, $360,355 in 2008 and $292,247 in 2009. If the analysis were run today, the figure would be in the neighborhood of $2.20, assuming the coroner sticks to his budget.

Why are Ashtabula County’s expenses higher? One factor is the outsourcing of autopsies, which are performed by the Cuyahoga County coroner on a fee-for-service basis. Transportation expenses also come into play because the bodies must be transported.

In addition, the Ashtabula County coroner has more employees than most coroners in counties the size of Ashtabula. The staff includes a full-time investigator, a part-time deputy coroner who handles the night calls, and a part-time investigator. Until recently, that part-time position was a full-time one. Two years ago, the office also had a secretary.

Malinowski did not return a request for an interview Friday, but in the past he has said that he must have a staff this size, or even larger, because his health does not allow him to go out on calls and do investigations, nor does he have the computer skills to input data into the state death-certificate system.

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