Funeral homes get help with burials

In response to requests from local funeral homes, the Wadena County Social Services Board established a flat rate for county burials while increasing the amount it pays for services and materials.

In response to requests from local funeral homes, the Wadena County Social Services Board established a flat rate for county burials while increasing the amount it pays for services and materials.

According to Minnesota statute, counties must pay for funerals "if it is determined that the person did not leave sufficient means to defray the necessary expenses of a funeral and final disposition, nor any spouse of sufficient ability to procure the burial." Arrangements provided by the county must be in accordance with the religious and moral beliefs of the descendant or the next of kin.

Starting in 2008 the county will pay $3,600 for a traditional funeral with burial, $3,000 for a traditional funeral with cremation and $2,000 for cremation only. Funeral homes will receive a 4 percent increase in 2009 and again in 2010.

Previously, the county paid for itemized services. Wadena County spent $18,795.86 for county burials in 2007. The average cost for the four traditional burials performed was $3,319.71. The average cost for the three cremations performed was $1,839.

Wadena County proposed a 2 percent increase for the cost of county burials, but funeral directors deemed that inadequate.


Jon Johnson of Johnson Memorial Home said funeral homes already absorb part of the cost for the county burials, but they would like to get closer to their actual expenses. Merchandise costs alone go up 4 percent a year, he said. Energy costs and taxes have also gone up.

Joe Brenny of Brenny Funeral Chapel said it's about fairness.

"The bottom line ... is that we're all Christians and it's our responsibility to take care of the less fortunate," Brenny said. "We're not in here to make a profit, we're in here to be fair to people."

The funeral directors were also concerned about possible expenses from a law that may be passed this legislative session requiring them to remove mercury-filled teeth from the decedent before cremation. Johnson said the bill has not gotten through committee during past sessions but is more likely to pass this year after the recently enacted law banning mercury in cosmetics and other products.

If passed, the law would require them to take continuing education classes on how to remove the mercury-filled teeth properly without doing damage to the body, Johnson said. Equipment and disposal of the mercury would be additional expenses.

The cost of digging graves is on the rise as well, Brenny said.

"Trying to get people to go out and dig a grave is very difficult," he said. "And they're demanding a price."

Johnson said he did not wish to sound petty but it is inconvenient to deal with receipts, particularly those for grave digging, he said.


Todd County established a flat rate in November to simplify the billing process, Johnson said.

Jean Stokes, financial services supervisor, presented a sample flat rate all-inclusive policy at $3,500 for a traditional funeral with earth burial, $3,000 for traditional funeral with cremation and cremation only at $2,000.

"What percentage increase is that over the average?" asked Paul Sailer, director of Wadena County Social Services.

Around a 6.4 percent increase, Stokes said.

Commissioner Mary Harrison pointed out that isn't a figure that can be determined because the county doesn't know how many people will die or be cremated during the year.

In response to the single flat rate, Johnson said the only thing he's really nervous about is not knowing what will happen with the grave opening expense.

Costs currently range from $400 to $550 and could increase at any time, he said.

Sailer asked if adding $100 to the $3,500 would work.


"It would help," Johnson said.

After agreeing on the increases for 2009 and 2010, Johnson said the new flat rate policy seems manageable.

"At least with 4 percent we're covering our merchandise increase," he said.

The flat rate will only require a billing invoice rather than the itemized receipts, Stokes said

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