Included in the new county budget that is awaiting a second reading by Christian Fiscal Court is a line under general charity and welfare that allots $12,240 for pauper burials in the county.

During the 12 months of a fiscal year, that's enough to bury 20 people from July 1 through June 30 in cemeteries in Christian County, people who, according to state statute, have no spouses or next of kin, allowing the coroner to have them buried at the expense of fiscal court.

As of May 31, and thus far in the current 2018-2019 fiscal year, the county has had 19 pauper burials at a combined cost of $11,400, Christian County Treasurer Walter Cummings said.

Those burials can take place at any cemetery, but in Christian County have usually been at either Riverside or Cave Springs cemeteries, which are both in Hopkinsville.

Most years, the county uses all of the funds it sets aside for the burials.

"This is a county function," Cummings said of the county government's practice of supporting the burials. "For the term that I've been here, we've always included this in our budget."

The treasurer said previously the county budget had allotted $400 for each pauper burial but increased that amount beginning with its 2018-2019 year at a suggestion from funeral homes.

Several in the community said that $400 wasn't quite enough to cover the cost, said Cummings, who noted that $9,000 had been set aside in the 2017-2018 county budget.

Those funds go to the funeral homes to reimburse them for that burial expense.

Randy Graham, a licensed funeral director and embalmer with Maddux-Fuqua-Hinton Funeral Home, added that the City of Hopkinsville donates the grave space for pauper burials, opens the grave space for each interment and closes it back up once a body has been interred.

Graham noted that individuals buried in pauper graves must not own property or assets that could be used to pay for a funeral; pauper burials are governed in the state by Kentucky Revised Statute 72.450, which explains that, if a body is buried at public expense, the coroner must take possession of any money or property found on or belonging to the deceased person.

That money or property will be used to help defray the expenses of the burial.

"What it says is, if the coroner is unable to locate the spouse or next-of-kin of a dead body, then the fiscal court can pay for the burial if it's an unclaimed body," said Christian County Attorney John Soyars, who shared the particular statute governing pauper burials in Kentucky.

That statute also states that the coroner, in lieu of having an unclaimed body buried at public expense, may deliver the body to a state medical school in keeping with other state statutes.

Graham added that such burials must also include authorization from a district judge.

"You can't," he said, "just bury people."

He noted that pauper burials, from the perspective of the funeral homes involved in those burials, are no different than burials for any other person.

"We're there to take care of the deceased and the deceased (person's) family," Graham said. "We treat every person the same regardless of what type of service they're going to have."

The funding slated for pauper burials in 2019-2020 -- and the remaining budget for the new fiscal year -- was approved on first reading during a Christian Fiscal Court on May 28, and the budget will require approval on second reading before the end of the current fiscal year.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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