Routt County Coroner will become a full-time position with full-time pay |

Routt County Coroner will become a full-time position with full-time pay

Coroner to make nearly $110K, on par with commissioners, treasurer, assessor and clerk

The historic Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs. The change to make the Routt County Coroner a full-time position will take effect next year at the beginning of the coroner's term.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The elected office of Routt County Coroner is now considered a full-time job, bringing the pay for the position up to what the county commissioners, treasurer, assessor and clerk are already making.

Routt County Commissioners approved the change on Tuesday, Sept. 27, which will increase the salary for Coroner Mitch Locke from $66,680 a year to $109,374. The change will take effect next year at the beginning of the coroner’s new term. Locke is running unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election after being appointed to the role in June.

“I’m looking at this at being a full-time position,” Locke told commissioners Tuesday, adding that his duties take priority over running the Yampa Valley Funeral Home, which he owns. “In the two-and-a-half months that you guys have appointed me, we’ve had 13 deaths, and I’ve done them all but one.”

The conversation — one that commissioners and Locke agreed was awkward to have — stems from a law the Colorado legislature passed last year that elevates coroner to a full-time role in category II counties such as Routt unless commissioners voted to decline the change for cause.

Commissioners voted unanimously not to decline the change.

Locke said there are several changes he wants to make at the coroner’s office, mainly around documentation of cases. He also said he is on call pretty much all the time unless he plans to leave the county. Even an hour-long trip to Craig requires him to have a deputy coroner on call, Locke said.

Many other counties have a full-time person in a chief deputy coroner’s position, Locke said, but there isn’t a similar role in Routt County.

He explained that a straightforward death can take about eight hours to investigate, but others can take much longer. He estimated that on average, each death investigation requires about 30 hours of his time.

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“The coroner’s job is absolutely a full-time position, just as the clerk, treasurer and assessor are,” Locke wrote in a letter to commissioners. “We not only cover the daytime hours these offices cover, but we are more like the sheriff that covers every minute of every day.”

Commissioner Tim Corrigan said his main concern is that he has heard from commissioners in an “unnamed county” that their coroner never responds to deaths and passes off that work to deputy coroners who are paid hourly.

“We certainly don’t think you’re going to do that, but whenever we talk about employment decisions, it’s never about the individual — it’s about the position,” Corrigan said.

While Locke said he will continue to have deputy coroners work with him, he added that he intends to handle about 90% of death investigations.

Another concern from commissioners was Locke’s ownership of the Yampa Valley Funeral Home and whether he would devote the time of a full-time job to coroner. Locke responded that his wife has taken on a larger role in the business, and his duties as coroner will be the priority for him.

“If I’m doing my other job and I am on-call (as coroner), my other job takes the hit,” Locke said.

Commissioner Beth Melton said Locke’s answers convinced her the change would be appropriate. She said her problem with the legislation is that it puts the decision in commissioners’ hands, and it’s a decision they only have with the coroner and no other elected offices.

“I get it, full time for an elected official does not look the same as full time for a lot of our other employees — we have a lot of flexibility about what that means,” Melton said. “The question that was in my mind was how can you run the funeral home and do this full time. To me, I think you answered that question to my satisfaction.”

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