The casket is lowered into the grave. The dirt falls. No flowers are laid on the mound. No tears are shed. Besides a county employee and a representative from the funeral home, there are few mourners. Most of what is said is a short prayer. This is the funeral many receive because it’s all they—or their families—can afford.
“When they really can’t afford anything at all, that’s when we step in,” Campbell County Deputy Mayor David Young said. That’s our responsibility.”
Campbell County pays for the funerals of people who can’t—a cost that is rising.
“There’s getting to be so many of them,” Young said. “We’re averaging about one a month. You’re looking at substantial money.”
The county budgeted $9,400 for each of the past two years for “pauper burials.” Each burial costs the county about $1,400 to $1,500. A budget amendment was passed in June to increase the county’s budget for the burials to $14,905 due to increased demand.
“My thought is, so many people can’t afford life insurance,” Young said. When the burden of paying for a funeral falls on members of the deceased’s family, they can’t afford it either, he said.
State law allows local officials to designate money for the burial or cremation expenses of any poor person dying in the county.
Burials take place in a county-owned “pauper cemetery” next to the former Fertex building in the Jacksboro area.
“There’s no flowers, no mourning, no people, no nothing,” Young said. “It really is sad.”
An employee from the County Highway Department uses a backhoe to dig and fill the graves.
“[Walters Funeral Home director] Charles (McNeely) told me they always say a little prayer,” Young said.
If the county locates relatives who aren’t able to pay for the funeral, they are told about the service.
How the county assumes responsibility for burials
Because the county only buries people when family members are ruled indigent, funeral homes contact the county mayor’s office when they can’t locate family members willing to cover funeral expenses.
Staff there try to locate a next of kin before burying the bodies. State law requires the county to look for at least five days.
But during the search, the bodies must be kept somewhere.
“We can’t start embalming, we can’t do anything to that body until we find the next of kin,” Young said.
Because Walters Funeral Home is the only local parlor with a morgue, the bodies are usually kept there, Young said.
While none would speak publicly, Young said, “lots of (our) funeral homes are not prepared to hold a body two to four days.”
And if no one can be located in that time?
“We just go ahead,” Young said. “At that point we let the funeral home make the arrangements for the pauper burial.”
A cheaper solution
While burials have been frequent, a possible cost-saving measure is on the horizon.
A new law will allow the county to cremate bodies.
“That’s probably what we’re going to start doing from now on,” Young said.
While the county would still be required to hold the bodies for five days and look for a next of kin, cremation would only cost $800—greatly reducing the price by more than 45 percent.
We asked our more than 2,100 Facebook fans about using cremation to save money on their own funeral expenses. Here’s what they told us:
“I’m not spending a dime on all that vanity,” Jason Brock Horne said. “Give me to science!”
“I don’t want all that money spent on me after I’m dead,” Jamie Norman said. “Have a party of my life and no black, sad clothes either.”