(HELENA) Lewis and Clark County commissioners are looking at the possibility of combining the county sheriff and coroner’s offices.

At their meeting next Tuesday, the commission will discuss a resolution of intention to consider whether to consolidate the positions. The consolidation would take effect in January 2019.

County chief administrative officer Roger Baltz said commissioners have been thinking for several weeks about the possibility of combining the offices. He said they have held initial discussions about it with Sheriff Leo Dutton and Coroner Bryan Backeberg.

State law gives commissioners the power to consolidate county offices at their discretion. In Lewis and Clark County, several positions have already been combined. Paulette DeHart serves as both county treasurer and county clerk and recorder, while county attorney Leo Gallagher is also the public administrator.

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37 of Montana’s 56 counties have already combined their sheriff and coroner’s offices, including Cascade, Broadwater and Jefferson Counties. Lewis and Clark County is the most populous in the state that still keeps them separate.

Baltz said the commissioners have not made any final decision on whether to move forward with consolidation. He said approving the resolution of intention will allow them to do more research about the effects.

“Issues such as budget ramifications, efficiencies, training, overall cost have to be researched and understood as we bring the issue forward and discuss it,” he said. “That’s what’s anticipated for the future.”

Baltz said there would also need to be more discussions about the structure of a combined sheriff-coroner’s office. One possibility, suggested in the resolution of intention, is that sheriff’s deputies could be trained as deputy coroners to help perform the additional duties.

The commission plans to discuss a possible final resolution on Dec. 19, but Baltz said that could change if Dutton is unavailable. Dutton suffered a heart attack earlier this week and is scheduled to be on medical leave through Dec. 10.

If commissioners do want to consolidate the offices, they must decide before next month. On Jan. 11, candidates will start filing to run for sheriff and coroner in next year’s elections.

Backeberg told MTN it is still early in the process for him to comment, but he said he has some logistical questions about how a consolidation would be implemented.

The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office includes 87 employees, of whom 47 are sworn law enforcement officers. The coroner’s office currently has three full-time employees.

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