Unclaimed cremains a delicate issue

Where the unclaimed cremains and urns of around 40 deceased persons from the Bashaw/Ponoka area will ultimately find a final resting place is a matter that was up for discussion at the last Bashaw town council meeting held on Oct. 12, 2017.
According to Bashaw Funeral Home owner and director, Marlon Wombold, legislation has recently changed which mandates that funeral homes are to dispose of any unclaimed remains that they have in their possession after five years.
Between the Bashaw Funeral Home and Ponoka Funeral Home, both owned by Wombold, this adds up to around 40 unclaimed cremains from the past 50 years.
Wombold told the ECA Review during a recent phone interview that he approached the town about placing these unclaimed cremains in a locked underground vault, which his funeral home built for the town back in the 1960s.
The vault was built to store caskets during the winter months when the town lacked the equipment to break the frozen ground to bury the dead. The vault is around 400 square feet and has been sitting empty for the last 15 years when advances in equipment made the vault unnecessary.
Wombold felt that placing the cremains in this existing structure, which was built to hold remains and is already located in the cemetery, was the most logical, respectful and cost effective solution for everyone.
He even suggested in his letter to council, that the town charge a service fee of $100, for example to unlock the vault and retrieve the cremains for any person who wished to claim them in the future.
It would seem however, the town disagrees.
According to town office employee, Kathy Berry, who acts as the recording secretary during town council meetings, that putting the urns into this vault is not properly disposing of the cremains.
Instead Wombold is being asked to purchase plots in the town cemetery, at the cost of $300 a piece, out of his own pocket. It was also suggested to him that he purchase the necessary grave markers, which Wombold said run around $800 each plus extra for installation.
The local funeral director said there is also the cost of digging a grave which is around $150 a plot.
That brings the total to around $1300 a grave that Wombold is being asked to pay to respectfully handle the remains of the former Bashaw community members.
Berry suggested that a number of urns could be buried in one plot thereby reducing the cost for the local business owner.
People sometimes leave a love one’s cremains in storage because they want to bury them alongside another loved one who has not yet passed away.
There are also situations where, quite simply, people put it out of mind and forget. Therefore throwing the ashes away or spreading them into a communal flower bed feels wrong, exaplained Wombold.
Wombold, who also owns the funeral homes in Ponoka and Wetaskiwin said the town of Wetaskiwin was honoured to handle the unclaimed cremains of their citizens and donated a mosoleum and a crypt, which they built, to pay respect to their dead.
Wombold was surprised at how the town of Bashaw has chosen to handle this situation.
“The Funeral Services Act under the General Regulations actually reads that the unclaimed remains ‘must be disposed of in a manner that is suitable and non-offensive to the public’”, said Wombold.
The funeral director openly acknowledged the grey area governing the subject as well as how much was left at his discretion.
However, from his point of view, placing the urns in an underground cement building in a cemetery leaves the town in the same position liability-wise as caretaking for the other remains that are in their care.
If the two parties do not find a solution agreeable to both, what will be done with the unclaimed remains is not known at this time.
No specific date has been given to the funeral home when the cremains must be out of his possession, however answers will be needed before the next inspection, which is six months away.

In other council news
Coun. Schultz moved to increase the penalty amount charged on overdue utility accounts to six per cent and Coun. Pearson moved to to increase the connection/disconnection charges to $75 per each activity. Both items were carried.
According to the town council unapproved meeting minutes, insurance certificates are reviewed annually for accuracy and it was determined at this year’s review that the non-functioning water tower is insured for $1,244,375 which is actually based on a functioning water tower replacement cost.
In light of the fact that the water tower has been decommissioned and is no longer in use, it could be insured for a declared value correlative to repair/removal value.
Coun. Pearson moved that the Town of Bashaw council approve the extension of the “Agreement for the Collaboration of a Regional Fire Services Coordinator” for an additional five years ending February 2023 as recommended by the Regional Fire Services Committee.
As well as that the managing partner, Camrose County, be authorized to enter into negotiations with the City of Camrose to discuss the potential of the Regional Fire Services Coordinator position to be integrated with the Camrose Fire Services with terms and conditions to be approved by all parties to the Agreement.
A dock for the trout pond is to be built and will be ready for installation for the spring of 2018.
Due to a damaged and non-functioning sound system in the Community Hall, a motion was passed to replace it at the cost of $12,000 which includes a cabinet, out of the reserve funds. It was also suggested that the town approach the Community Hall Board for contributions toward the new system as well.
Coun. Schultz also advised that many of the alleys in the town are in extremely rough shape. Public Works Foreman Holroyd acknowledged and noted the areas of concern.

Dena Clark

ECA Review Reporter

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