Madera County supervisors approved a funding package Tuesday that will pay for construction of a new morgue.
Supervisors approved a plan to build a $533,000 facility in a 5-0 vote. Another $49,000 will pay for a video camera security system.
The new site is a leased 12,600-square-foot building at 2980 Falcon Way near Madera Municipal Airport and the new Madera County Sheriff’s Office facility. It will include walk-in coolers, a storage area and space for supplies, said sheriff’s Cmdr. Bill Ward.
The county had contracted with local funeral services companies on a per-case basis for years, but that came to an end in 2015 when investigators alleged that the local contractor was overcharging the county. The county was paying for services that weren’t provided. It led to the arrest of Smith Manor Grace Chapel co-owner Sharlane Smith.
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Madera County had contracted with Smith Manor Grace Chapel since 2007. Smith faces 25 counts of fraud and theft.
The county allegedly was overcharged $100,000 to $150,000, said David Linn, Madera County’s district attorney. He said a court date to set a preliminary hearing for Smith is Friday. In the meantime, she is free on bail.
Merced County has assisted Madera County with coroner services after it ended the contract with Smith Manor, Ward said.
There are times when there are more Madera County cases than Merced County cases.
Bill Ward, Madera County Sheriff’s Office commander
“Historically, we have never had a coroner’s office (building); we always used a local funeral service,” he said.
Ward said he expects the coroner’s office to occupy the new building early next year. Two new deputy positions were approved to staff the office in addition to the county’s chief deputy coroner.
He said cases from Madera County have at times more than doubled the Merced County coroner’s workload.
“There are times when there are more Madera County cases than Merced County cases,” Ward said.
The morgue will be built with money from developer fees, law enforcement grant funding and general fund money from a building sale.