IRS concerns spur bid to give coroner a raise

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Contrary to the old saying, it was uncertainty over death and taxes that took center stage at Monday’s Carter County Budget Committee meeting.
Routine budget amendments were overshadowed by the Internal Revenue Service’s concern over how the county pays its coroner at the meeting.
Discussion came up after Carter County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach told the committee the IRS had contacted her about how the county has been paying for services of a county coroner. Deloach said the county uses a vendor check to pay Coroner Benny Colbaugh for his services.
But the IRS told her Colbaugh should be paid through the county’s payroll system, which would require federal income withholding.
Colbaugh is compensated at a rate of $50 per service call, Deloach said, adding he also receives mileage reimbursement for travel related to service calls.
As coroner, Deloach said Colbaugh responds to an average of between 100 and 110 calls per year, and Colbaugh’s compensation from the county last year was approximately $5,400.
According to Deloach, in order to maintain the pay rate of $50 per call, the coroner’s salary would need to be raised to compensate for the federal withholdings. She also said funding already set by the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget would not cover the increase.
“I am never an advocate of taking out of fund balance; those that have been here for a while can tell you that,” Deloach said. “But I see no other place to take this.”
But while raising the amount would cover the tax bite, Deloach suggested more should be done.
She said as the committee reviews Colbaugh’s compensation because of the IRS concerns, it would be a good time to reconsider his actual rate of pay. Deloach said she feels Colbaugh is underpaid for his services, adding he can spend upwards of five hours on a single call and he must be on call 24 hours a day.
When members of the committee asked what coroners in other counties are paid, Deloach said she had spoken with several other counties and the answers were “all across the board.” She said some counties use a per call pay structure while others use a flat rate for the service. She added some counties even combine those two methods, paying a flat rate plus a per call fee.
County Mayor Leon Humphrey said he also felt Colbaugh was underpaid for his services. “We have enjoyed for many, many years having a coroner but we’ve not really paid him.”
Committee member Ronnie Trivett made a motion to increase Colbaugh’s rate to $100 per call but to cease mileage reimbursement.
“If anyone knows Benny Colbaugh, you know we are getting our money’s worth,” Trivett said, adding he had spoken to several people who had high praise for Colbaugh’s services.
The motion was seconded by committee member L.C. Tester, who said he also felt Colbaugh was underpaid.
“You’re not going to find anybody who’d do it for less than that,” he said.
The motion passed on a vote of 7-1 with Trivette, Tester, Buford Peters, Ross Garland, John Lewis, Robert Carroll and Sonja Culler voting in favor. Committee member Nancy Brown cast the only dissenting vote.
The committee also voted to take up to $6,900 from the litigation fund and place it in the building and grounds fund. The money will be used to replace ceiling tiles in the courtrooms, offices and hallways at the Carter County Justice Center. Deloach said the tiles needed replacing, adding many have been damaged in numerous floods caused by inmates when the jail was located above the courtrooms and offices.
Trivett made a motion to approve the fund transfer which was seconded by Tester and passed unanimously on a vote.
Members of the committee also signed off on a school system project to replace portions of fencing at the county high school. Deloach said the project would require no new money as funding was already set aside in the school system’s budget for the project. The motion to approve the project passed unanimously with Culler abstaining, saying she had a conflict of interest.

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