COUNTY INCURS COST TO INTER THE INDIGENT
An article by Don Walker in the September 19, 2011 edition of FLORIDA TODAY, states that as expenses rise, Brevard County and area funeral homes try to find common ground to dispose of the indigent dead.
According the article, a two acre lot off Titusvilles South Deleon Avenue, barely five miles east of Interstate 95 contains the plots that mark the final resting places for the nameless, unclaimed and indigent dead in Brevard County. Within the confines of a chain-link fence, coontie shrubs, mowed grass and small mounds of freshly turned dirt make up the landscape that is otherwise covered with gray cement-molded headstones. "This may not be an ideal setting, but at least theres some place for them to be," said Ian Golden, director of Brevard County Housing and Human Services. "All the things you would expect from a plot, you still get that when youre here." In all, there are 411 graves in this nameless cemetery. Space is available for 100, maybe 150, more. "Were running out of room," said Golden, whose county office disposes of unclaimed and unidentified remains, as required by state law.
Lack of space at the cemetery and efforts to reduce costs have led the county to turn in recent years to an alternative method of disposal cremation. The number of cremations funded by the county, as mandated by the state, has climbed from 160 in 2006 to 234 last year. In that same time span, the number of burials declined from 20 to seven.
Brevard County has spent nearly $400,000 to deal with the dead in the past four years. And it soon may cost more. Area funeral homes are asking the county to double what it pays them for cremation services, from $450 to $900. The county also pays $600 for burials, which can cost funeral homes as much as $1,600. "Funeral homes charge differently," Golden said. "They obviously dont think we pay enough."
South Brevard Funeral Home in Melbourne handles more than 100 cremations and burials for the county each year. Owner Mike Ammens father started the business in 1970, and it includes Palm Bay Funeral Home and East Coast Cremation and Burial in Melbourne. Ammen said the amount the county pays hasnt changed in 20 years. "But the cost of doing business has gone up over those 20 years," he said. "Theres more to it than whats on the surface," Ammen said. "We have to pick the deceased up, do all the paperwork, the permitting, shelter the deceased, provide a cremation container and a container for the cremated remains. Theres more to it than the act of cremation." Hiring grave diggers and a burial service costs South Brevard Funeral Home more than the countys $600 reimbursement rate, Ammen said. Families have the ultimate say on whether a burial or cremation is performed, but the county decides for those bodies unclaimed or unidentified. Compare what the county pays to what the public pays for the same services: "The simplest cremation cost is $885. For the simplest burial, by the time you buy a grave, pay grave diggers, youre talking in the $3,500 range," Ammen said.
Local funeral homes agree the countys review of the fees paid to funeral homes is long overdue. Whether the rate will be adjusted will ultimately be up to county commissioners to decide. The county budgets $80,000 annually for burial and cremation services. High volume has forced the county to dip into emergency funds three of the past four years to cover costs. An additional $80,000 would be needed if the county doubles its fees to funeral homes.
"If we go with the amount requested we would be the highest paying in the 14 counties weve contacted for comparison" for disposals, Golden said. Neighboring counties like Orange and Seminole pay $350 and $400
respectively. Hernando County, one of 14 counties contacted by Brevard for a reimbursement rate comparison,
pays $650 the highest of those contacted. Currently, cremations are being encouraged but not required for financially strapped families who rely on the county for help. Eligibility is based on income and circumstance.
To speak with a member of our legal team, contact Charpentier Law Firm, P.A.