An agreement with a business that has assisted the Coroner's Office for at least two decades was up for Aiken County Council approval earlier this month, but it was decided to bid the service out instead.

A resolution to enter an agreement in which the County Coroner's Office would continue working with Rucker Removal Service was part of Council's consent agenda at the July 16 meeting. But during a discussion held before the Council meeting, the Judicial and Public Safety Committee asked that rather than immediately renew that agreement, bids needed to be taken for the service.

County Coroner Tim Carlton is not thrilled by that change in plans. The County Coronor's Office has worked with the Rucker firm, which is based in Langley, since 1991, and Carlton said it has a good reputation that speaks for itself.

During the committee meeting, Carlton said that the Rucker firm works with many area funeral homes, the coroner's offices in Barnwell and Edgefield counties, the Newberry Medical Examiner's office and state, county and city law enforcement agencies.

Councilman Chuck Smith asked why the County was sole-sourcing the service.

“We should bid this out,” Smith said at the committee meeting. “It keeps everybody honest.”

Carlton responded that the Rucker firm is run by some of the most honest people he knows.

“I think they've demonstrated their ability to do the job responsibly, and they do it compassionately,” Carlton said on Thursday.

Carlton reminded the committee that the County chose a different company several years ago, but it went out of business shortly after. The County then went back to using Rucker's services.

Smith said they must consider what is economically best for the County and its citizens. Smith said that without knowing what other options are available, it's difficult to make that determination adding that no company is “irreplaceable.”

Carlton countered that statement with the fact that the Rucker firm has not increased its rates with the County in two years even with the higher gas prices. He said they have a fixed rate for transports from anywhere within the county, as well as transports to autopsy.

Carlton said on Thursday the decision to bid out the service could negatively impact the work of the Coroner's Office. Response times and handling the bodies in transport are vital. Carlton said in the past, other firms had unacceptable response times of one and a half to two hours to arrive at a scene. Some didn't have adequate equipment or manpower and were unable to handle multiple events across the county at the same time.

Carlton is also concerned with the location of other transport businesses that may go for the bid – using a transport business located in Augusta or Columbia could affect response times.

Other known removal and transport services in the CSRA include Gravitas Transport Service, which is used by the Richmond County coroner, and Nobility First Call. Both are based in Augusta.

The Aiken Standard spoke with Jerry Rucker with Rucker Removal Service, but he did not want to comment on the matter until he received more information.

According to County Administrator Clay Killian, the bid has not gone out yet, adding that obviously, it's a very specialized service that will require very specialized criteria.