Indigent clarification

Working to clarify the city’s definition of indigent prompted the city of Wapakoneta to review its existing policy and to amend its indigent burial ordinance.

In 1995, Ohio legislators made local municipalities financially responsible for handling the burial expenses of indigent persons, but more recently the state clarified a policy must be in place to deal with the remains instead of relying on funeral homes to store them.

On Monday, Wapakoneta City Council members heard the first reading of an ordinance to increase the amount paid to a local funeral home for cremation services. City administrators also presented a document to define the criteria for being an indigent person and to establish a policy of storing or disposing of the ashes.

“I think our new policy is very fair and it is very precise and very defined which is what we were after when we were tasked to develop a new policy,” Mayor Rodney Metz said after Monday’s meeting. “The biggest changes in the policy are the dollar amount paid and that it is prearranged with cremation services. We also have to meet the requirement in regard to the remains that have just been recently passed by the state which makes the city responsible for the ashes, and we have more precisely defined an indigent person.”

Under the ordinance, the city increases the amount for cremation services to $1,000 from $750. The city has paid this bill since the state law went into effect in 1995.

During a Health and Safety Committee meeting, councilors tasked Safety-Service Director Bill Rains with determining the definition of indigent person using the Ohio Revised Code and Attorney General’s Office opinions.

Rains based the city’s new definition on former Attorney General Betty Montgomery’s opinion, which was provided to the Wapakoneta Daily News.

The opinion defines indigent as encompassing individuals who are poor, needy, destitute or in poverty.

The criteria established for an individual who is indigent includes evaluating “the ready availability of real or personal property owned, employment benefits, pensions, annuities, Social Security, unemployment compensation, inheritances, number and age of dependents, outstanding debts, obligations and liabilities and any other relevant considerations concerning the financial condition of an individual.”

The city safety-service director will be the person responsible in determining if a person is to be considered an indigent person and to determine where to store the ashes. The ashes would be stored in a plastic urn inside a box provided by the funeral home and stored at the Wapakoneta City Administration Building, if other arrangements have not been made with the family.

Family members also could contact the safety-service director and sign a waiver to take control of the ashes if they wanted to place them somewhere else, such as spread them at a favorite location.

A review by the Health and Safety Committee chaired by Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr. was prompted by an increase in the number of indigent cases coming before the city, a result in the downturn in the economy.

This year, the city has handled at least three cases, while they did not handle any indigent cases in 2010 or 2011.