TERRE HAUTE —
Vigo County Coroner Susan Amos claims her 2013 salary should be the same as a majority of other county elected officials and has asked the Vigo County Council for a raise.
Amos appeared Thursday before the council’s budget adjustment committee seeking her salary be raised to $47,858 from $31,905.
The coroner inferred the County Council was discriminating.
“The county has historically paid a physician coroner the same as every other elected official and it has been that way for 16 years. Then in September it is changed. The only difference is I am female and he [former coroner Dr. Roland Kohr] is not,” Amos told the three-member committee.
Councilwoman Kathy Miller said the council’s decision for pay was not decided because Amos is a female.
Miller said the council looked at the salaries of coroners in other similar sized counties in the state to reach its decision on a base coroner salary of $21,270. By state law, Miller said, a physician who is elected coroner must be paid one and a half times that base amount, which is the $31,905 the council set for the coroner’s salary this year.
Miller said it is not a statewide practice in counties that a majority of elected officials receive the same salary. Miller said not all elected officials in Vigo County earn the same, such as the county council, sheriff, prosecutors and judges.
Amos said Vigo officials such as treasurer, surveyor, clerk and recorder receive like pay.
“I don’t believe it unfair at all to compare one coroner salary to the rest of the coroners salaries across the state,” Miller said. “I think that is a very reasonable way of looking at things. Your job would not be that much different than those other coroners across the state,” Miller said.
Amos retorted, “Our case load is much higher.”
“Caseload is possible,” Miller said, “but I would find it very difficult to say, for lack of a better word, the messiness of your job and strenuous part of your job being on call 24 hours a day, is not any different than other coroners in the state.”
Miller and Councilman Mark Bird each stated that former coroner Dr. Roland Kohr, a licensed pathologist, received a salary the same as some other elected officials because he saved the county money by not charging his physician fee while performing autopsies as the county coroner.
“There is no provision in the state statute to base it on that, to give more for autopsies,” Amos said. “Dr. Kohr had never asked for more for autopsies, he just wanted to be on par with other positions. If you are coroner and you do autopsies, you cannot charge the county.”
Miller said in budget discussions, including salary, “him [Dr. Kohr] being the fourth highest paid coroner in the state was because we were getting those [autopsy] services without having to pay [physician] fees.”
“The council did look at the fact that you were a physician and got 11⁄2 percent on top of the base pay,” Miller said. “You stated you will not be performing autopsies. From my personal standpoint, it was looking at coroners’ salaries across the state, comparing like counties, not female-male or not physician-physician.
“I take great offense that you would say I reduced your salary because you are a woman,” Miller said.
Robert Effner, attorney for the county council, said the county’s 2013 elected salary ordinance provides additional compensation if the county coroner is a licensed pathologist and performing autopsies for the county without additional autopsy fees incurred by the county.
“The council can set salary as they deem fit and if they want to use that as a rationale to give an additional stipend, if you will, I think there is a rational basis for that,” Effner said. “Basically, it is up to the council. You can ask the council to change that and they can consider that. But I don’t think from year to year they are required to keep a salary the same.”
Kylissa Miller, chief deputy county auditor, said Kohr, during a budget hearing last year, stated the coroner department’s autopsy funding had to be increased $50,000 in 2013 as he would no longer conduct autopsies at no charge to the county.
Ryan Oilar, county council administrator, said the former coroner requested the budget be increased $50,000, which made the final autopsy budget line $100,000. Oilar said the autopsy budget had been increased to $50,000 in prior years because the coroner’s department was always running out of funds.
According to the minutes of the Annual Budget Committee meeting held by the Vigo County Council on June 18, 2012, Coroner “Dr. Kohr stated the autopsy fees will need to increase by $50,000, because next year he won’t be coroner, and will not be doing them [the autopsies] for free.”
The original requested amount was $50,000, and “with the new request it brings the appropriation amount requested to $100,000,” according to the committee minutes.
Amos has not always been paid the same as other elected officials, according to county records. Amos previously served two consecutive four-year elected terms as coroner, from 1997 to 2004.
In 1996, the last year of Kohr’s first consecutive two terms as coroner (he served two more consecutive terms from 2005 to 2012), Kohr earned $31,100, the same as seven other elected officials such as the county assessor, clerk, surveyor, recorder and commissioners.
During that year, Kohr requested within his budget a new position of “Medical Examiner” with a salary at $32,721. This request was denied during the September budget session, and the incoming coroner rate was established, according to council minutes.
In 1997, when Amos took office for her first of two terms, the coroner salary was $27,375, while the majority of other elected officials had a salary of $32,100.
In the 1998 September budget sessions, Amos requested her coroner salary be increased to be similar to other elected officials within the county. This request was denied, according to council minutes.
In the 1999 budget session of the county council, the coroner’s compensation was increased. Amos’s salary as coroner was $29,380, while other elected official salaries were $34,000, according to county records.
In 2000, the coroner’s salary was raised to be the same as the county treasurer, surveyor, clerk, recorder, auditor and assessor at $35,100. That continued in 2001, with the coroner’s salary the same as a majority of other elected officials at $35,480, county records show. Documents for 2002 to 2004 were not obtained by press time.
The council committee voted 3-0 Thursday to send Amos’ salary request, without a committee recommendation, before the full seven-member council at its March 12 meeting.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org