City stops funding pauper burial, again
MCCRACKEN COUNTY, Ky. — In tough times, fewer families can afford funerals or burial costs.
As more people turn to the government to cover final expenses, one local city decided to stop helping.
The McCracken County coroner told us for nearly 50 years, his county and the city of Paducah split the cost of pauper burials. But the last three quarterly bills to the city totaling more than $25,000 have gone unpaid.
According to Kentucky state law, paying for pauper burials falls solely on the county, not the cities.
But county commissioners said state law has always been that way. They want to know why the city decided to suddenly stop paying.
They think politics may play a part.
But the city manager said the answer to all this is simple. The city doesn't have the money.
While the people buried in the pauper cemetery we visited all led different lives, they had one thing in common.
"No matter what walk of life they come from, it's our responsibility to take care of these people," McCracken County Coroner Dan Sims said.
The families they left behind didn't have the resources for a funeral or burial.
"Most of the families are ecstatic that there's somebody who's willing to help them," Sims said.
The McCracken County coroner said with about a thousand tax dollars and the generosity of local funeral homes, the paupers can be given a proper burial.
He said for half a century, Paducah split that cost with the county but in 2008, they abruptly stopped.
After media attention, the city picked back up and every quarter, Sims would send a bill and the city would send a check. Sims says lately, the city stopped paying again with little explanation.
"They owe past pauper services and they say, 'Well, we're not going to pay that,'" Sims said.
State law makes it clear they don't have to pay and City Manager Jeff Pederson said it boils down to budgeting.
"We have tremendous challenges in front of us, in particular, meeting our obligations," Pederson said.
But Sims still questions why the city stopped now and said the city should focus less on budgeting and more on doing the right thing.
"I rest peacefully with that, that I have done the right thing for them," Sims said. "All I can say is, I can do that. Can they do that?"
County commissioners are hopeful the city will change it's mind again. The city manager said he's not sure what the city will be able to afford in the future.
The coroner said though cremation is less expensive, legally, he can't force families to choose that option. Even in cases where the pauper has no friends or family, and there are cases like that, Sims still buries them because that's what the law requires.
Sims said the county gets no federal or state assistance for pauper burial. He said local funeral homes usually lose money on the pauper funerals.