How much money Crow Wing County should spend on indigent burials was a question posed Monday during the county’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
The county provides burials for indigent persons when they are unable to pay the cost of a funeral and disposition of their remains.
Luke Simonett, employment and economic services divisional manager in Crow Wing County Community Services, said the county has had a basic policy in place since 2009, but the policy needs to be revised to accommodate travel and burial costs. Simonett said it also needs to be more detailed on what services should be allowed and what should not be allowed.
Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle said the county needs to come up with a more clear and consistent policy and a standard rate for burials and then negotiate with the funeral homes in the county.
Simonett said in the past four years, the county has paid an estimated $91,500 for 40 burials in 2009; $83,300 for 38 burials in 2010; $109,600 for 53 burials in 2011; and $105,600 for 42 burials in 2012. The county also receives money from selling assets from the deceased. From 2009 to 2012, the county received an estimated $27,700 to help offset its cost for burials.
In the proposal presented by Simonett, it was suggested the county pay a maximum of $3,200 for an earth burial and $2,500 for cremation. And, if needed, the county would pay the actual costs for the burial lot, the opening and closing of the grave and a transportation cost of $2 a mile while transporting the deceased outside a 20-mile radius.
Houle said the county burials are not the top of the line caskets. He said the county has paid just the basics in the past for the burial and the services. Houle said families are not able to have the county pay the bare minimal and then they pay for any extras, such as a longer visitation.
Houle said the county is trying to allow families the right to select a funeral home they want to work with, as the funeral home may be associated with a religious preference.
One of the items the commissioners said they’d like deleted from the county burials is having a headstone or marker on the grave. Houle said that state statute does not require counties to pay for markers.
The commissioners agreed the county should not be negotiating price for each burial.
County Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said she’d like the county to do a burial that is respectful and kind. Commissioner Paul Thiede agreed and said the goal would be so people can’t tell that it is a county burial.
No action was taken at the meeting, but commissioners asked the administration to clean up the wording in the policy, take out the markers and, once the policy is approved, that it be reviewed in a year, instead of two years.
In other county business, Sheila Skogen, customer services divisional manager for Crow Wing County Community Services, updated commissioners on a technology investment the department is working on that would help the county share electronic documents, integrate client data from all client service delivery interactions and improve client experience through data driven services.
Skogen said the county is working with two venders, Gopal Khanna and eDocs, to see what software could be created that would allow the county to be more cost- and work-efficient and customer-friendly.