Death investigations from the south-metro suburbs appear to be headed downtown.

County boards in both Dakota and Scott Counties on Tuesday declared their intent to join forces with Hennepin County for morgue services, abandoning the cramped Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office in Hastings in 2013.

Details are still being worked out and the deal isn't final, but Hennepin County had asked for a commitment from the south-suburban counties before moving forward with plans to renovate its morgue near the Metrodome.

"It's a major step forward," Dakota County Administrator Brandt Richardson said.

The merger will increase the annual morgue costs for both south-metro counties, but officials say it's a necessary update to a shoestring operation in an outdated facility that's too small.

"If we don't do this, we're going to have a big outlay to do something with the place that we have right now," Dakota County Commissioner Paul Krause said. "To me, this makes a whole lot of sense."

The Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office in the basement of Regina Hospital in Hastings serves Dakota, Scott and five other counties. The caseload has doubled since it was last renovated in 1987.

Merging with Hennepin County would bring more space and resources, said Dr. Lindsey Thomas, the Dakota County medical examiner.

Thomas and other staff members in Hastings would become Hennepin County employees.

Even one of the biggest uncertainties -- whether the new Vikings stadium would force the Hennepin County morgue to move -- was billed by Dakota County officials as a potential benefit. If that happens, they said, there's general agreement that any new facility would be in southern Hennepin County.

"It's such an opportunity to really set things up for the future, to create a stable, sustainable system," Thomas said.

She said the topic will go before the Hennepin County Board later this month.

Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286