Commissioner: Cremation could save money

Monday, August 1, 2005

Cape Girardeau County could save money by cremating residents who die indigent rather than burying them in coffins, 2nd District Commissioner Jay Purcell says.

But Gerald Jones, the presiding commissioner, said there are few indigent burials in any year. He's reluctant to change the county's current policy.

"We are not spending that much money," he said. "I don't see any great concern."

Since adopting its current policy in 1993, the county has paid a maximum of $600 for an adult burial, and $300 for an infant.

Purcell believes that cost could be cut in half if the county would resort to cremation.

"We should do what is most cost-effective for the county," he said.

Coroner John Clifton, who researched the issue at the request of commissioners, said some area counties pay far less.

Perry County pays $300 for burial or cremation. New Madrid County pays $175 for cremation. Scott County pays $150 for burial. "Scott County doesn't do cremation," he said.

Cape Girardeau County commissioners voiced concern about indigent burial costs five years ago.

But there have been few such burials since then, said county Auditor David Ludwig.

In 1999, the county paid for seven indigent burials. In 2000, the county had four indigent burials.

There was one indigent burial each year in 2001 and 2002. There have been two indigent burials in each of the past two years, Ludwig said.

The county has paid $10,800 in all to bury 18 people in the past six and a half years, he said.

"There is not much of a problem there," Ludwig said.

But Purcell said slight cuts in various areas of county spending including indigent burials could add up to significant budget savings in the long run.

Jones said state law doesn't stipulate how much counties must pay for indigent burials.

Commissioners so far haven't changed the burial policy. But they have asked the coroner to further research the issue.

Jones said requiring the cremation of indigent persons may go against individuals' religious beliefs.

Jones said it's important that even indigent persons get a proper burial. "Even if they are indigent, they deserve some respect," he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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