Macon-Bibb County pays thousands to bury unclaimed remains

MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – While some cannot afford to bury their loved ones, others maybe holding grudges. Regardless, taxpayers are still paying the bill.Spending a day with Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones and listening to his stories shows how difficult it can be for families to say goodbye to their love ones.

In order for someone to be buried, state law requires the next of kin to sign off on their burial or cremation.

Jones tells us a story of a Macon woman named Helen Manley. Before her death, she had already paid for her funeral.  But when it was time to lay her to rest, her grandson would not sign the paperwork.

“I tried to tell the gentlemen, you don’t owe the funeral home anything sir, she had a pre-need, it’s paid for.  He said he wasn’t going to do anything,” Jones says.

Jones also explained how many times family disputes cost the county money, time, and resources because someone would not sign off on their burials.

“I think its the disconnection with the family, its a family problem, somebody doesn’t want to bury the hatchet,” Jones mentions.

In addition to Manley, Jones is dealing with five other cases.

He was very serious about how to properly dispose of remains, the only legal way to lay them to rest, is for the coroner to get permission from the court.  Without the authorization, Jones, and the county, could could face a possible lawsuit.

“The minute I sign the cremation, somebody going to come from South East Nevada, and say you cremated my daddy without my permission I’m going to sue you,” Jones says.

Currently, Jones has six urns of human ashes sitting in his office but, funeral homes are storing hundreds more of unclaimed remains.

Georgia State law is very specific on how remains are suppose to come to the coroner’s office of that county, if the family hasn’t returned to pick up the cremains in ten days.”

“If the funeral homes brought me all the cremains I would probably quit the same day,” Jones tells us.

Douglas Fraley is an administrative assistant at Bentley and Sons Funeral Home in Macon. He has seen firsthand how costly remains can be on the county.

“Hundred dollars per day, to preserve the body in a cooler,” Fraley explains.

After contacting multiple funeral homes in Macon, I found out ashes of more than 250 people have not been picked up.

If no one claims them, it becomes the county’s problem.

According to the Macon-Bibb finance department, taxpayers spent almost $73,000 dollars on unclaimed remains in 2014.

$50,000 was spent for 71 burials in evergreen cemetery. State law requires the division of family and children’s services to bury the person, if the family does not have the money.  If the person is unclaimed, after a judge signs a petition, the person is cremated.

Seven petitions were filed to superior court.  After adding in the attorney fees, that’s costing taxpayers $400 each, or $2800 total.

$10,000 was spent for funeral homes to preserve the bodies in coolers until the next of kin is found, or a judge signs their burial petition.

Each time a body is transported, whether it’s from the hospital to a morgue or to the funeral home, it costs $150, totaling $10,000 dollars last year.

Macon resident Jeff Beachem thought that it is the government’s responsibility to go after these citizens and force their obligations as well. While Loretta Hunte says she believes it’s fine, we have to take care of our people so if we have to spend taxpayer money it’s what we got to do.

Jones works every day to help save the county money, but he needs the community’s help.

He tries to tell people to have a will,  sit down and discuss it with your loved one, your next of kin and also pre-pay your funeral. A family member can pay something down, and monthly make payments to kind of preserve the bill in the future.

This makes the burial process easier, and helps taxpayers save money.

Categories: Bibb County, Local News, Special Report

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