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"Baby Step" Forward for Cass County Coroner - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

"Baby Step" Forward for Cass County Coroner

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The battle is just beginning for the Cass County Coroner, who is urging county commissioners to get with the times.

Dr. John Baird, County Coroner, says his caseload is too big now without adequate morgue space, a formal office and full-time employees.

Monday, county commissioners addressed part of the concerns by funding one full-time death investigator and one three-quarter time employee. The county also granted some office space within the courthouse, and provided the investigators with a car.

But, if you ask those investigators, this is just a baby step towards getting up to speed.

"I've tried to keep the office as invisible as possible, to be helpful to families," Dr. Baird said. "It's not really something that's been in the news or visible for even the commissioners."

The Cass County Commission is just scratching the surface of needs for the Coroner's Office.

"They want stability in their pay, they want a place to work out of, they want the normal that, as a county employee, you would have," Mike Montplaisir, County Auditor, said of the two investigators, currently being contracted out by Baird.

But, hiring these investigators on, granting office space so Kriste Ross can get empty body bags out of her dresser, and giving them a car may not be enough.

"I would hold off on converting it to an actual hearse until we get into 2014," Ken Pawluk, County Commissioner, said of the van the county is granting them.

And that's where Dr. Baird says the majority of the pressure is.

"We're asking a lot of the funeral homes to assist us with those cases," Baird said of the Fargo businesses currently driving the bodies to and from Grand Forks for autopsies. Their service is an expense to the county. Each round-trip costs more than $200. But, the transportation isn't always available if the funeral homes are busy serving families.

"It seems like that's working quite well from what I can tell," Mary Scherling, County Commissioner, said at the meeting, agreeing with Commissioner Pawluk. "I'm not sure why we would go ahead and start doing that ourselves."

"They would still do a lot of removals and transport, but there's going to be times when it would be more appropriate to have a county vehicle to do that," Baird said.

Commissioner Darrell Vanyo says the board took care of the biggest issue at Monday's meeting: "the people issue." He says it was most important for the county to get the investigators paid appropriately and having adequate space to work. He also says, from what he experienced at the meeting, adding morgue space is not a priority for the commission.

Commissioners say they will revisit the issue, but likely not before next August, when they work on the budget for 2015.

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