Dougherty Coroner disputes charge of consistently exceeding budget

Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler responded on Monday to accusations that his office has consistently exceeded its budget.

ALBANY — Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler got an apology on Monday after he defended himself from an accusation that he overspent his budget over the previous four years.

The coroner presented budget figures he said showed that the office was in the black for the 2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 fiscal years and had money left over at the end of each year during that time.

Fowler’s remarks came during a meeting of the Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee, which is putting finishing touches on the county’s 2021-2022 spending plan.

During a June meeting, the coroner’s office was accused of exceeding its budget over the previous four years.

“Commissioner (Clinton) Johnson apologized for that statement,” Fowler said.

During a telephone interview following the meeting, Johnson said the Finance Committee has not had a chance to compare its figures to those presented by the coroner.

“He did say he felt like the information wasn’t true, so I did apologize,” Johnson said. “It was a very humble and frank discussion.”

Other than 2020, when the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to increased costs for the office, Fowler had been operating on about $185,000 per year, so the Finance Committee felt that that amount was sufficient for the 2021-2022 budget year, Johnson said.

“We felt like that would suffice,” Johnson said. “He can always come back and ask for more if he needs it.”

Fowler also has the option of prioritizing the budget to spend funds where most needed, he said.

The coroner presented budget figures for three fiscal years. For 2017-2018, he said, former County Administrator Richard Crowdis requested an additional $13,570 for the coroner’s office due to the moving of the morgue from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s main campus to the hospital’s north campus, Fowler told commissioners. The funds were earmarked for the purchase of supplies and preparation for the move.

The commission that year granted a total of $14,771 in additional funding to the original $175,425 budget, of which a total of $188,861 was spent for the year, leaving a balance of $1,335 unspent, he said.

Fowler also requested additional funding the following two years, but said his office had a remaining balance of unspent funds of $6,110 for 2018-2019 and $15,119 for the following year.

Fowler also defended his practice of using two local companies to transport bodies to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime laboratory in Atlanta when autopsies are required. One company charges $450 per trip and an additional $100 if it has to make a return trip to pick up a body, while the other charges $450 for each trip in cases where a body is not returned on the same day.

Other companies charge a per-mile rate of $2.25 or $2, which would in most instances be more than that paid under the per-trip arrangement, he said.

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