ELLENSBURG — With Kittitas County reaching and surpassing 40,000 in population comes a new local government impact: the requirement to elect a county coroner in 2014.
U.S. Census data released Feb. 23 indicated the county’s population in 2010 was 40,915, and county Prosecuting Attorney Greg Zempel said that means the county will need an elected coroner.
Right now county prosecutors and deputy prosecutors they appoint act as the coroner, and determine cause and manner of death under state law.
“Most counties want a full-time arrangement from an elected coroner position when they reach that population figure,” Zempel said last week. “That’s 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Currently, Zempel and his 11 deputy prosecutors provide 24-hour responses for coroner call outs with different personnel working shifts in a rotation basis.
The cases are split between hospice cases, in which deaths are expected because of end of life health issues, and cases where a coroner visits the scene of an unexpected death with investigating law enforcement officers.
Zempel said requirements for an elected coroner include being at least 18 years of age, a resident of the county, a registered voter and not having ownership or any type of interest in a funeral home or mortuary. The elected position will be a four-year term.
Although no specific professional medical or law enforcement experience is required in state law, Zempel said many coroners in smaller counties are former sheriff deputies or police officers, or former or retired mortuary operators or owners.
A number of smaller counties also have deputy coroners who work with the elected coroner.
Larger counties have a medical examiner along with a coroner.
A coroner would be elected, according to state law, in the next election cycle during which county government officials are elected, which is fall 2014.
Prior to the candidate filing period in 2014, county commissioners will set a salary level for the position, Zempel said, likely after researching salary levels in other Washington counties similar in size.
County commissioners, in cooperation with other county officials, likely will determine office space and other amenities for the coroner’s office prior to the election, Zempel said.
County Auditor Jerry Pettit said it’s possible the coroner’s position could be part-time, although such a provision would have to be researched to determine if state law allows it.
The coroner position is partisan, meaning the candidates must declare their political party preference.