Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins doesn’t do the job for the paycheck.
But county officials agreed Tuesday to make his paycheck and those of his staff a little bigger.
“This is actually a full-time job and the compensation is set for more of a part-time coroner,” county Administrator Scott Johnson told commissioners at a Management and Financial Services Committee meeting last week. “The amount of people we have coming to Columbia County and the amount of calls the coroners continue to get, the problem you have is that the coroner is having a hard time maintaining that full-time job. (It’s difficult) having to catch calls during the week, on weekends, at night and having to work a full-time job in addition to that.”
County Medical Examiner Dr. Butch Garrison resigned about three months ago. Collins asked that Garrison’s $30,000 annual salary remain in his budget to be passed along to his deputy coroners Harriett Garrison and Bonnie Holloway.
He recommended the raise go from $175 to $200 per call, how the deputy coroners are paid.
“They haven’t had a raise since it went from $150 to $175 (several years ago),” Collins said. “I’ve got two good people who know what they are doing and they deserve more.”
Johnson said even if the raise for the deputy coroners, money will still remain in the budget left over from Garrison’s salary.
Johnson said he spoke to the state officials and Collins, who all said a medical examiner wasn’t necessary.
Collins said he’d call Garrison in on calls as a consultant. But with access to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab, a full-time medical examiner just isn’t needed.
“He’ll actually have a surplus in his budget,” Johnson said.
Commissioners also approved an $8,000 a year raise for Collins, which was previously approved in the budget. The raise will be added to his $16,00 annual salary, which includes his car and cell phone allowances.
Johnson also suggested an $8,000 raise for Collins was approved in the current budget to be added to his $16,000 annual salary. Commissioners approved the resolution granting the raise to Collins.
Collins didn’t ask for a raise for himself, but Johnson said it is deserved.
“I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Johnson said.
Collins said his position as the county’s coroner is in deed a full-time positions as he expects himself or deputies to respond to 230-240 calls this year.
When Collins started a deputy coroner under then Coroner Tommy King, the office was responding to 25-30 calls a year. Those numbers don’t count deaths in nursing homes and other similar incidents like other counties do.
“It’s growing exponentially,” Collins said of the call volume his office responds to.
A “call” isn’t simply arriving at a scene and pronouncing someone dead.
“We put a lot of time into these cases,” said Collins, who retired from his safety position with a local transportation company about two years ago because “I just couldn’t do both.”:
Collins said they type reports and enter them into state databases, draw blood for those deaths that don’t warrant autopsies, dealing with attorneys and insurance companies, and finding, notifying and working with families of deceased people.
Collins also says he personally transports bodies to the state crime lab for autopsies.
“I’m on the road a lot,” Collins said, adding he recently drove 2,300 miles in a two-week period. “I don’t want to break the chain of command.”
Collins and his staff are on-call 24-hours a day to respond to wrecks, fires, accidents, suicides, drug overdoses, unwitnessed deaths and those who die during CPR.
But what Collins really wants is money, but not for himself. He said he’d like to purchase a disaster morgue refrigerated trailer.
Collins said such a trailer would cost $40,000-$45,000 and would be handy in cases involving infectious illnesses or any disaster resulting in mass casualties.