COEUR d'ALENE - The Kootenai County commissioners are considering an internal audit of the county coroner's department, as the coroner has exceeded her department's budget for the second consecutive year.
"We don't have anyone else over expending their budgets," said Commissioner Dan Green on Friday, during a meeting between the commissioners and Coroner Debbie Wilkey at the administration building. "I remember saying last year, 'Don't come back to me again and ask me to do this again.'"
But Wilkey, elected coroner two years ago, said that under budgeting was to blame, as well as billing issues with the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office, which conducts all of the county's autopsies.
Wilkey hopes to avoid budget issues next year, she said, by taking on more analysis at the county, instead of relying so heavily on Spokane.
"I want to make things better," Wilkey said.
Wilkey exceeded her $299,774 budget for fiscal year 2012 by $14,918. She specifically went over her pathology and radiology services budget set at $155,000, which Wilkey had exceeded at $173,468.
This was a smaller issue than at the end of the previous 2011 fiscal year, when the commissioners had to inject an additional $50,000 into the coroner's budget, due to a high number of autopsies.
On Friday, Wilkey said that over the 2012 fiscal year there were complications with bills she received for toxicology work conducted in Spokane.
She received one bill for a service provided five and a half months prior, she said.
"This is unacceptable billing," Wilkey said. "It was devastating to me. I had thought we were going to be under budget."
The commissioners said she should have been more alert to the status of her budget throughout the year, and approached them about issues earlier.
Pat Raffee, chief deputy clerk, pointed out to Wilkey that her department's budget looked in trouble a month before the county fiscal year ended in September.
"It looked like a freight train coming right at you," Raffee said.
Wilkey responded that the commissioners had under budgeted her department's needs, and that she had asked for $174,000 to $181,000 for pathology and radiology services.
She has even tried to reduce costs, she added. Wilkey ordered 62 autopsies this year, 20 less than last year. There were 1,400 deaths this year, she added.
Wilkey intends to improve the office's methods, she said, by conducting toxicology work in-house.
She pointed out that Spokane doesn't offer a toxicology service alone for drug-related deaths, but only provides a "one-size-fits-all" combination of autopsy, toxicology and other services that can take 6 to 8 weeks.
"If I do my own toxicology, I have my own control. I have a five-to-seven day turnaround," Wilkey said, adding that she is working on organizing in-house toxicology.
Raffee and the commissioners discussed the potential for an internal audit of the department, as well as providing Wilkey with budget mentoring.
The commissioners can appropriate more funds to accommodate the coroner's 2012 expenditures, or order the department to refund the over-budget dollars.
The commissioners will make a decision at their 2 p.m. business meeting next Tuesday in the board room of the administration building.
Commissioner Jai Nelson hopes to review the coroner department's progress after six months, she said.
"I don't want to wait a year and do this again," Nelson said.