JOHNSTOWN - Fulton County may create a deputy coroner position.
The Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee on Monday voted to change the structure of the coroner's office.
The county has two coroner positions, and one of them is vacant. Instead of filling the vacant coroner's position, the county committee wants to create a deputy position.
The change is pending final approval by the full county board on March 10.
The county has been operating with elected coroners Margaret Luck and Art Simmons, who resigned Dec. 31.
Luck told the committee Monday that in the past, both coroners were on equal footing, which can cause a "difficult relationship."
"There is sometimes no oversight," Luck said. "There is no checks and balances."
She suggested the deputy coroner position, which would be overseen by the coroner.
"A lot of other communities are starting to do that," Luck said. "There's no change. We're already set up for two coroners."
Simmons in November wrote to county Administrative Officer Jon Stead indicating he was resigning, mainly because he was elected to a Republican councilman position in Northampton. He resigned after 16 years in part because, under state law, he cannot hold two elected positions at the same time. He also stated there were "several reasons" why he was relinquishing the coroner position, but he provided no details.
The Fulton County coroners do not earn a set salary. They receive a $160 fee for each death they investigate.
Luck said there would be "no actual increase in fees" by creating the deputy coroner post.
Public Safety Committee Chairman William Waldron said the deputy coroner would receive the same fee as the coroner.
The county budgets $74,350 annually for the coroner's office.
The county could reduce the county's two-coroner setup to one coroner and establish a system of "backup relief" with contiguous counties for death calls. Under county law, the board has the authority to change the number of elected coroners to no less than one and no more than four.
Northampton Supervisor James Groff said he was "totally opposed" to having only one coroner.
"We'd be shortchanging the residents of this county by not having enough coverage," said Stratford Supervisor Robert Johnson Jr.
Johnson alluded to a "tug of war" between Luck and Simmons in the past, adding there has to be an "administrator."
"I think this is a good solution to our problems," said Waldron, referring to having one coroner and a deputy coroner.
Michael Anich can be reached at email@example.com.