The Phelps County Commission held their open meetings last week after the holidays to discuss a mixed bag of county business. Learn how 29 opioid deaths in Phelps County last year affects the way Coroner Davis is doing his job.

The Phelps County Commission held their open meetings last week after the holidays to discuss a mixed bag of county business.

Road and Bridge Department sells loader

There was a bid opening for an old Allis Chalmers loader that the Road and Bridge Department wanted to eliminate from their inventory. It was originally purchased used in the early 80’s and currently does not run. The commission received three bids—T.J. Busque ($667), K & D Lumber ($1,556) and Mark Spurgeon, the bid winner, for $1,753.

County Coroner Andy Davis presented his proposed 2018 budget

“Even though the opioid epidemic has hurt us and hit that [autopsy] line item, I think we’ve done a pretty good job staying within the budget,” said Davis. “With that item included, I was only over $1,200, what you had given me. Of course that one item, I have no control over . . .”

The only item for which there was a budget increase in the coroner’s budget was for a deputy position that was approved by the commission last year.
“I handled just over 400 cases last year, which is almost 11 percent higher than the year before,” said Davis. “Unfortunately, I don’t see a decrease this year.”

Coroner Davis has actually figured out a way to make some revenue for his services—he will start charging regional funeral homes to deliver corpses.

“I’ve talked to the funeral homes, and on those cases I respond to, I’m going to start doing their removals for them, which helps everybody all the way around,” he said. “Since I have to be there anyway, I don’t have to wait for the funeral home to get out there, the cops don’t have to wait for them to get out there—it’s done when we’re done—we can remove and go.”

Coroner Davis said the funeral homes weren’t averse to the price he has suggested—$50 for his service. He thinks a ballpark figure for this service will net around $1,200, the amount he was over budget due to the cost of autopsies and the number that needed to be performed last year. He said the autopsy line item in the budget had not increased in the last 20 years.

Davis has been able to shift his law enforcement responsibility from having to depend on autopsies to toxicology reports, which are cheaper. “I can get four or five “toxies” done for the same price as one autopsy,” he said. “This is where I’m shifting my opioid overdoses. These are non-criminal [cases]—they’re not going for prosecution. If we were going for prosecution, my hands are tied.”

Coroner Davis mentioned there were 29 opioid deaths last year in Phelps County.
Currently the price of an autopsy is around $1,600 and that fee which is now being handled by the University of Missouri-Columbia  (as opposed to St. Louis University (SLU)) is expected to remain the same for this year.

Davis said it has been taking three to four months to get autopsy reports back, so switching to more toxicology reports (10 to 14 day turn-a-round) will speed up the whole process, again, as long as prosecution is not involved. He expects autopsy report wait times to go from SLU—three months to Mizzou autopsies, one month.
Coroner Davis’s budget increased in autopsies performed ($5,000) in training expenses (“if we don’t do training, we don’t comply”) and included a cost of living increase. This is proposed budget the commissioners will need to pass.

County Surveyor Terris Cates also proposed his 2018 budget

Part of the county surveyor’s job (and therefore a line item in the budget) is to locate section corners to determine ownership of land. Surveyor Cates has said previously that there are around 890 corners (markers left by previous surveyors since Missouri became a state in 1821) that haven’t been located here in Phelps County. This is an ongoing project the county funds a little at a time.

“The commission approved [funding for finding] 13 section corners (a section is a square 640 acres) previously at $650 per corner, but we held off because we knew the Department of Agriculture was coming up with a grant program—so they are paying $300 a corner and the county $350. The budget would also include a “non-standard” corner which serves as a control to measure back to the original corners, once they are found.

“The way the procedure is, we locate the section corners that we feel we have enough data to be able to re-monument—then, submit this to the Department of Agriculture Land Survey,”explained Cates. “They review all the documentation to prove this is the right location, they sign off on that and then we go set that corner and re-submit to them all the measurements we have.”

Cates noted that this is due in March, so he will finish it this month, which will finish up the project work for the budget of last year. He said the project was delayed by the Department until November of last year, explaining the overrun in the budget calendar. He said the grant program is to continue into the 2018 budget year. “We’re looking at [locating] 15 corners this year,” said the surveyor.

He said the last two years, the budget has run $5,000. This year, the proposed budget is $5,250, which will provide the resources to find two more section corners for a total of 15.

“This is for the protection of our people,” said Cates. “[With the grant] it’s a tremendous cost savings.”