The Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services and the Chautauqua County Funeral Directors Association have failed to come to a contractual agreement regarding burial and cremation services to those seeking financial assistance.
At an October 2013 legislature meeting, the association, which represents 20 of 23 funeral homes in Chautauqua County, requested an increase in the amount they are reimbursed for services provided for those lacking the ability to pay for their own final expenses.
For several years, funeral directors have been paid $984 for their basic services.
Gary Kindberg, president of Lind Funeral Home, said every funeral home is different when it comes to how much services cost. On average, he said $2,300 covers amenities involved with funerals such as removal from the place of death, arrangements, casket, dressing of the deceased and transportation to the cemetery.
"We lose about $1,300 per funeral," Kindberg said of the indigent burials. "What's on the price list is not anywhere near $984."
The Funeral Directors Association asked for an increase to $1,400, and the Department of Health and Human Services responded with an offer of $1,100 while also reducing and limiting the amount that may be supplemented to $1,100.
Supplemented funds are defined as monies which are donated by family members in order to provide other services such as casket upgrades and embalming of the deceased.
"We can't absorb losing $1,000 for every funeral," Kindberg said. "Our position has been that we're not trying to make money on social services funerals. We're simply trying to lose less. We want to help folks as much as we can, but we need help from the county."
Members of the association disagreed with the terms offered by the county, so the county went to bid for a contracted provider.
Christine Schuyler, public health director, said the law requiring the county to pay for indigent burials dates back many years.
"There are certain things by statute, such as the casket and minimal burial needs, that the county pays for," Schuyler said. "Supplementation is not included in that. We follow the law for the indigent person by doing what we're required to do, making sure the person has a casket and a burial plot. Taxpayers should not have to pay for additional services."
In terms of the agreement between the department and the association, Schuyler said the contract is just like every other contract put out to bid in the county.
"We received our responses, and all funeral homes, even out of state, had the option of submitting the bid," she said, adding that the county contracted with the lowest bidder, just like every other county contract.
Schuyler said the association was asking for an increase to amend the previous contract which the funeral homes had agreed to a set price of $984 .
"We did our research to see how much the services required by statute and what we were offering covered that," she said. "I felt it was only prudent to set the supplementation limit at the same as what we were going to reimburse for the funeral. If someone has the means for unlimited supplementation, then why do county taxpayer dollars have to be used at all?"
Larson-Timko Funeral Home in Fredonia was the lowest bidder and will take responsibility for indigent burials.
"At least we did have someone within the county who wanted to take care of this population for us," Schuyler said.
Warren Riles, president of the Chautauqua County Funeral Directors Association, declined to comment on the matter.