Boone County's budget for indigent burials runs dry

Friday, September 11, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:49 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 12, 2009
By August 2009, the Boone County Commission had used up all of the funds set aside for indigent burials for the year.

COLUMBIA — The man’s corpse was discovered without a name or a family, and consequently his final expenses fell to those he had never known.

Every year, Bruce Rice and other funeral home owners find themselves responsible for the final arrangements of people with minimal assets or little to no immediate family.

“There was a man that was killed in a vehicle accident,” Rice said. “No identification. Nobody knew where he was from or who his family was. That went on for two or three months, and eventually he was cremated.”

This nameless man’s final arrangements rested with Rice’s Parker Funeral Service & Crematory and the Boone County Commission. Each year the county budgets a certain amount to subsidize the burials of the underprivileged. To qualify for assistance the deceased person must have less than $1,000 in assets, and their family must be unknown or unable to cover the cost.

With four months left in 2009, Boone County’s yearly budget of $3,000 for indigent burials has run dry. In the last eight months, county government has helped finance 10 cremations at $250 each and a $500 burial.

Northern District commissioner Skip Elkin said the county will have to dip into its emergency fund for any additional indigent arrangements this year.

“The last few years we’ve been getting close,” Elkin said. “This year we hit our cap real early. I think it’s indicative of what’s happened in the economy. People are capped out, and I think that’s why at the end of August we’ve reached our budget limit.”

Since 1999 Boone County has provided funding for 44 cremations and six burials.

The county’s share of $250 for cremations and $500 for burials does not cover the cost to funeral homes. A typical cremation at Parker is estimated at $1,325, and if a burial is pursued, $500 is barely enough to dig a grave — let alone buy a plot. Rice estimated a standard, low-budget burial at $5,000 to $6,000.

“As much as we hate to, we get by on that,” Rice said. “It ends up costing us money actually.”

Parker also funds services for those who do not qualify for county assistance. Typically, Rice budgets for between seven and 10 indigent services a year, and usually handles somewhere between 10 and 15. The home does not always receive county reimbursement because those in need may not meet the qualifications for county assistance.

“One year we did about six more than we budgeted for,” Rice said. “The next year we did three less than I budgeted for. There’s no way to tell how many we’re going to do.”

Bach-Yager Funeral Chapel opened in February and has yet to handle an indigent service. Owner John Bach has worked in the funeral business for nearly 15 years. Before opening his own home he was the funeral home manager at Memorial Funeral Home. In his time at Memorial, Bach said, he saw fewer than 10 cases subsidized by the county.

“A person had to have less than $1,000 in assets—money, property, car.” Bach said. “So, there’s not a lot of them out there. There’s a lot of them that will say they don’t have money to work with, but there’s not a lot of them that qualify. A cremation service is over $1,000. If I’ve truly got someone that doesn’t have any money for it, then I’m going to cover as much of that as possible.”

“I think all the funeral homes in our community have stepped up to that challenge and helped families out in a lot of cases on the worst day of their lives,” Elkin said. “I’ve found that all the funeral homes are willing to help.”

With the high cost of final arrangements, Rice said most funeral homes pursue the crematory route for indigent services. While both Rice and Bach expressed the economical advantages of cremation both acknowledged some families are uncomfortable with the procedure.

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Taylor Combs September 11, 2009 | 8:15 a.m.

Good job Maggie! I like the lede, short, simple and to the point. I can definitely tell that you took the time to do a lot of research. I think it is such an important story, and something that most people never have to think about. GOOD JOB!

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