Coping with cuts
An occasional series examining the fallout of more than $11.5 million in cuts to Hall County’s fiscal 2012 budget.
Budget cuts in Hall County have made the government’s number crunchers the arbiters of taxpayer-funded burials.
Until this year, families too poor to bury their dead were directed to the local office of the Department of Family and Children Services to apply for what is often termed a “pauper burial.”
But a decision not to fund the local office in a tough budget year means that the social service is now being handled by the county’s finance department.
Tim Sims, interim finance director, said he and another finance department employee have handled five applications for pauper burials since the department took over the service in July.
“We just kind of assumed those responsibilities,” Sims said.
The designation comes with the county’s blessing to pay about $1,500 for a small plot and a casket or a cremation.
It doesn’t cover the cost of opening or closing the grave, however.
“Famililes struggle to get that sometimes, so they’ll cremate,” said Kevin Wetzel, president of Memorial Park Funeral Home. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s a cremation.”
This year, as in years past, the county has $70,000 budgeted to spend on taxpayer-funded burials.
The county’s main job is to determine if an applicant is eligible for the taxpayer-funded funeral. To meet the requirements of a pauper burial, a person must prove that he has no more than $200 in assets.
Sims said that part — following state-outlined procedures for determining eligibility — is pretty simple, and each application takes about half an hour to process.
Directors at Memorial Park Funeral Home, which say they have handled two of the county’s five pauper burials in the past month, say the transition from social service agency to county finance department has been a smooth one.
But the new responsibility also means that finance employees, who mostly deal with other county employees, are now also part of the grieving process for the county’s poor.
“We deal more with employees coming in from other departments,” said Sims. “Those are what we call customers.”
The experience of dealing with bereaved family members has been both humbling and heartbreaking for Sims, he said.
Any future finance department employee responsible for handling the applications will not only need the procedural know-how to follow state guidelines, he said, but also a certain character.
“It will need to be somebody...that’s able to handle this and still be strong for the people that are coming in that may be emotional or having other issues happening with them at the time,” Sims said.
In this budget era, it’s all part of county employees’ call of duty.