Should Muscogee County reconsider indigent burial process? - WRBL

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Should Muscogee County reconsider indigent burial process?

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In January, Muscogee County used taxpayers' money to pay five area funeral homes a total of $9,600. A News 3 investigation found out the money is used to pay to bury people whose families can't afford it.

Georgia law mandates that everyone is entitled to a decent burial and requires local governments to set aside funding to pay for those who cannot afford it. 

Right now, Muscogee County budgets and spends around 30-thousand dollars for the burials, but the corner has a plan that could potentially save the city thousands of dollars.

Every year, there's an average of 81 indigent burials in the county. Each one costs the city $400 or $600 if it's a cremation.

Pat Biegler, Director of Public Works, overseas the indigent burial program. "We don't provide a funeral; we don't provide all the nice amenities that a funeral home would take care of. We simply provide a grave and place for that person... with respect and honor be [is] interned."

In order for the city to assume the cost of burial, family members are screened for income sources. If it's found that they do not have any financial means, it becomes the city's responsibility to bury the deceased.

For many years funeral homes have been widely used in Muscogee County to do most of the work. The city digs the grave and does the burial, but pay funeral homes to buy the casket and house the body.

Biegler said the city gets a discount. "A small fee to cover transportation; I mean, having the hearse, picking up the body, bringing it to the funeral home, taking it then to the cemetery... that's manpower involved, gas involved."

Normally, it would cost at least $650 for a burial. That includes $425 for picking up the deceased and $225 for the casket. Cremations would be closer to$800.

But in Richmond County, which is similar to Muscogee County in population size, pauper burials are done differently.

County Coroner Grover Tuten said the city does not use funeral homes, the coroner's office handles all aspects of indigent burials, including establishing a person's eligibility. "There were plenty of times that DFAS was certifying them as being indigent... when we done any detailed background check that they turned out to be many a family members who could step forward and help," Tuten said.

In 2012, the northeast county conducted 61 indigent burials, with a similar budget of $30,000. Using a system of bids and contracts, Tuten is able to provide a graveside service with a pastor and a marble headstone for any indigent burial.

Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said they should be a similar set-up."Let's bring it through the coroner's office where we can be a little more efficient and save the city some money."

Bryan said he has the space, vehicles and personnel to cut out the middle man.  By not using a funeral home Bryan said he can slash cremation and burial costs in half and save the city thousands of dollars. "I can have the cremations done between $300-$325. At the present time the city's paying $600 for a cremation.>

Bryan would promote cremations to save the city space. All indigent people are buried in Porterdale Cemetery. The pauper area is in danger of running out of space in about 12 years if the city continues to do burials.

Bryan recently approached city officials with his money saving proposal. They are reviewing it

Sydney Cameron

Sydney joined the WRBL news team in December 2011 after working as a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. More>>

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