Williamson County commissioners approved the agreement Sept. 17.
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said despite Williamson County’s best efforts, it is hard to assess the exact costs of the program and recommended that the Commissioners Court review the program and make any necessary cost adjustments within at least the first six months.
“Without a full cost recovery model, if we undershoot how much it costs to provide these services, we are subsidizing another county,” Eckhardt said.
The medical examiner's office already provides autopsy services in Williamson County. This new pilot program will add the provision of medicolegal death investigations, including attending the death scene, collecting records, drafting reports and photo documentation.
Williamson County will pay Travis County a flat fee of $500 per case, plus additional costs in cases in which the testimony of an investigator is required, up to $55,000.
"If other counties can purchase our services, they don't have to set up this very expensive office on their own," Eckhardt said.
The medical examiner's office expects this pilot program “will provide an opportunity to test the expanded role of the office,” according to a briefing prepared by Travis County staff.
The Austin-based medical examiner's office serves 44 counties, mostly in Central and Southeast Texas.
According to the briefing, Travis County stands to benefit from this contract because it will provide a thorough death investigation on cases referred to the medical examiner for autopsy services, which will help the forensic pathologist performing the autopsy; increased revenue for investigative services performed; and an exclusive agreement for autopsy services from Precinct 2 in Williamson County.
The medical examiner's office will monitor the program and its impact on the office’s resources. Priority will go to Travis County cases, per county staff.
If the pilot is successful, other precincts in Williamson County may want to participate in the program.