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Commissioners OK search for new land for indigent cemetery

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Travis County is running out of space – this time in the International Cemetery – which is the graveyard the county uses for burial of indigent county residents. One possible solution could cost taxpayers $2 million.


On a motion from County Judge Sam Biscoe Tuesday, the Commissioners Court approved a staff effort to collect information for the purchase of around 50 acres at an estimated cost of $2 million.


Still, whether the court will steer the county into the cemetery business remains to be seen: Biscoe’s motion included direction for staff to purchase 160 additional burial plots. However, it did not include a formal extension of the county’s current system – which utilizes private funeral service providers and cemetery operators – for longer than a year. “I think we ought to put ourselves in a position where we eliminate the immediate stress, but we understand we have to move on this matter,” said Biscoe.


County staff had asked the court to continue with its existing policy for three years. County Purchasing Officer Cyd Grimes told the court that staff’s recommendation was a “stop-gap.”


“It provides us those spaces until we all and y’all can make that decision, look for land, see what we can buy it for,” she said.


Biscoe didn’t like that idea. “I think three years, that’s too long for an interim deal – plus too costly,” he said.


Don Ward of the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources office, told the court that land acquisition for that type of project could be tough. “I’ve already done the research (about) where we could locate according to state guidelines,” he said. “The one spot that we can locate is the northeast part of the county – that’s it,” he said. “We’re restricted because there are guidelines that say a new cemetery has to be so many miles from a city of 500,000 or more, a city of 100,000 or more – there are guidelines that say you have to be 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles, 5 miles.”


Still, Biscoe wanted to move forward. The rest of the court, with Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber absent, agreed. Staff is scheduled to be back before the court on July 26 with more information.


The county offers funeral assistance for county residents who live at 100 percent of the federal poverty level. As part of the program it currently pays local service providers about $1,000 for body preparation, transportation to the cemetery, and a brief graveside service. Last year, Travis officials paid for 180 such events.


After the hearing, County Executive for Health and Human Services Sherri Fleming told In Fact Daily that she wasn’t yet sure if the project would be solely for indigent burials, or whether the court would open it up to the general public.

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