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POLITICS: Indigent burial legislation defeated

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Democratic legislation regarding indigent burials was voted down by a County Legislature committee last night.

The legislation sought to address long-standing complaints about the condition of grave sites paid for with county assistance. Advocates for the poor have complained that the graves at Oatka Cemetery are in an area that is not well kept and suffers from poor drainage. They also say that the grave markers are inadequate.

The Democrats' referral sought to require minimum standards for any cemetery accepting county funds for burials. Specifically, it sought to require permanent markers for the graves containing the name, date of birth, and date of death of the deceased. It would have also required the cemeteries to maintain all plots equally.

Ten people spoke on the referral, nine were clearly in favor. Most of the speakers also mentioned that the $1,250 grant available to families is not enough to cover the costs of a burial. Democratic Legislator Cynthia Kaleh said that the size of the grant forces families to cremate deceased loved ones.

Representatives from the county administration argued against the legislation. Department of Human Services Commissioner Kelly Reed said that the funds come from the state and that the county simply determines eligibility. She said that the county is not in a position to dictate what funeral-related expenses families use the money for, and cannot make demands of cemeteries it doesn't directly deal with.

"This is being fought in the wrong room in the wrong town with the wrong folks," Reed said.

The legislation failed on a party line vote.

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