AMITE — Tangipahoa Parish Coroner Rick Foster’s appeal at the Parish Council meeting Monday for additional office space, equipment and salary increases for his employees was met with the promise the council will try to give him assistance.
Foster — seeking more office space and equipment, especially newer vehicles, at $306,000 and additional personnel, raises and better communications equipment at $75,600 — said increases in the number of deaths and the number of residents with mental illness are straining his office.
“Sometimes we have four families in our office, and we only have four chairs,” he said.
Foster also noted that two of his vehicles are “falling apart,” and one failed on the highway recently while transporting a body to Jefferson Parish.
The council pledged early last year to increase funding to the Coroner’s Office with proceeds from the sale of the old Tangipahoa Convention and Visitors’ Bureau facility in Hammond.
The council placed a price tag of $450,000 on the building and property but has been unable to find a buyer. Parish President Robbie Miller said his office is having the property reappraised in hopes of coming up with a figure that might attract a buyer.
In the meantime, Parish Council President Bobby Cortez instructed the council’s Finance and Budget Committee to research ways to give Foster some immediate relief.
Foster said his budget has not been significantly increased in more than a decade, and his office space has not been expanded even though his workload has increased significantly. A new facility could be built for about $250,000, the coroner said.
Foster said he also feels an obligation to give his administrative assistant a raise and an additional clerk to help with the workload. He also asked the council to fund another position to assist with the effort of claiming bodies. Personnel additions and a pay increase for the assistant would cost about $57,000 a year, and this would be a recurring expense, Foster said.
In an unrelated matter, the council unanimously passed a resolution in support of a request by Wal-Mart Inc. to participate in the Louisiana Enterprise Zone Program.
Wal-Mart is planning to spend $16.5 million to expand its distribution center in Robert, just east of Hammond. According to the petition, Wal-Mart plans to hire 70 additional workers once the expansion is complete. Wal-Mart has a current workforce of 750 employees at its warehouse.
The request notes that Wal-Mart has an existing payroll of about $25 million at the warehouse. After the expansion, the payroll is expected to rise to almost $28 million a year.
Businesses in the Louisiana Enterprise Zone are afforded certain tax breaks to either build or expand facilities that result in increased employment.