City rules now allow "backyard" burial plots

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Councilman Geoff Schroeder can't think of any good reason why people shouldn't be allowed to bury a loved one on their own property in Mountain Home.

And he has the law behind him -- or at least the lack of any such law.

A few weeks ago, as city council was preparing an ordinance to raise fees at the city cemetery for plot purchases, burial fees and other costs, they were approached by Jerry Rost, the owner of Rost Funeral Home and the county coroner, who raised some questions about the city's ordinance concerning the burial of bodies.

"I'd had some people ask some questions (as part of funeral pre-planning) and I couldn't answer them," Rost said. "So I went to the council to get some direction."

The problem, Rost and the council discovered, was that essentially there is no law concerning how a person can (or even must) be buried or cremated. There are extensive regulations in state law for formal, publicly owned and privately owned public cemeteries, all designed to "preserve the sanctity and dignity" in perpetuity of any gravesite, and lengthy sets of laws and regulations regarding funeral homes. There also are federal laws and regulations that prohibit both burials and the disposal of cremated remains on federal lands (without special permission).

But "family plot" burial regulations on privately held lands are left entirely to cities and counties to develop relevant ordinances -- and few have them.

Under state law, a person must notify authorities of any death of which they are aware. That's designed to prevent someone from "burying Uncle Fred after he's died in the parlor" without telling anyone. A death certificate must then be issued.

But once that death certificate is issued, and the body released to a family, what they do with it is largely up in the air. There are no state laws (other than possible health code violations that might eventually apply), regarding what they do with the body after that (except a requirement that a body must be embalmed if the person died of a communicable disease).

Common social practice is to send the body to a funeral home, for proper preparation and burial in a casket, or cremation, at which point a large number of state laws and regulations come into play regarding what funeral directors, morticians and embalmers can, can't and must do.

But what if the family chooses not to send the body to a funeral home, or, even if they do, chooses not to have the body buried in the city cemetery?

"I think we all just assumed there were state laws covering this," Mayor Tom Rist said. But when Rost asked his questions for clarification by the city, "after we started looking into it, we realized there weren't.

"We're not the only ones in that boat," Rist said. "Normally, when we need an ordinance for something, we just go find one that someone else has written and steal it. But most towns in the state are like us. They don't have one."

The city ordinance applies only to burials in the city cemetery, and has a number of loopholes in it.

For example, it requires that a casket buried at Mountain View Cemetery must be contained in a concrete box or vault. That's essentially a maintenance issue. In the older part of the cemetery, where some graves go back to the late 19th century, after every winter one or two have collapsed, forcing the cemetery maintenance crew to fill in the the sunken ground and resod. Concrete boxes or vaults prevent that, keeping the lawn over the graves even.

But the ordinance only applies when a body is buried in a casket.

"I've had two people, in just the last month, who've requested that they not be buried in a casket," Rost said. And there's no city ordinance that would prevent that (which also would avoid the cost of both the casket and the sealed concrete box or vault).

Frankly, Rost said, he'd prefer to see an ordinance that both human remains and cremation ashes buried at the cemetery be required to be in a sealed box or container, because "it makes it a lot easier" to recover the remains if a family wishes to have a body disinterred and reburied somewhere else, something that happens roughly once or twice each year.

In fact, it was that issue that prompted the county to adopt a "family plot" burial ordinance in 2003. At that time, a family had come to the county requesting information concerning any laws that they would have to follow in order to have a relative disinterred in California and reburied on their own land in the county. Eventually, the family decided not to do it, but the county realized it needed something to control such burials outside of any public cemetery.

As a result, the county adopted an ordinance that restricts such "family plot" burials to Ag Zone A and requires that family burial plots be platted. It also provides for certain set-back requirements from property lines, roads, dwellings and other designated buildings, and any water sources, both surface and wells. It also requires that above-ground burials in crypts or mausoleums meet certain building code requirements.

In order to "preserve the sanctity and dignity" of the burials, the county also requires that, upon the sale of any land containing a family burial plot, the existence of the graves must be disclosed to the buyer and responsibility for properly maintaining them is the duty of the title holder of the land.

None of those requirements currently apply in the city, and there is at least one formerly residential lot in the city known to have a grave on it (although the burial occurred early in the 19th century when the property was in the county).

Schroeder said that when the issue of a person conducting a burial on their private property was first raised, he, like most of the rest of the council, at first thought the loophole in the law should be closed. "But then I started to think about it, and asked myself, 'why?' And I couldn't come up with a good idea to prevent it. If that's what someone wants to do, why shouldn't they be able to" bury a loved one on their own property, rather than in the city cemetery, he said. "I remain open to be convinced that it's a bad idea."

Schroeder noted that such requests would be extremely rare, although, he added, in today's economy people looking to save funeral and burial costs might consider it a little more often than has been done in the past.

He does believe, however, that for health reasons, a body should be buried in a casket, and thinks it's a good idea to require disclosure of the existence of any grave on a property when that property is sold.

The city is expected to take up the issue at its next council meeting, and according to Mayor Rist, most of the council seems inclined to close the loopholes involving the city cemetery, and create some kind of an ordinance regulating or restricting burials on private land.

"It's something we're really going to have to think about," he said.

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  • This is so stupid. It is a no brainer! The mayor is right in that if you want to bury a loved one in your own backyard you should be able to. I am all for health code things and disclosures to any future owners of the property, but aside from that what business is it of the government to determine where you can bury your loved one?

    -- Posted by mattnielsen on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 1:42 PM
  • Only in Elmore county! Okay where are they hiding the crack pipe, please take it away from them.

    If this is someone's idea to help with local property values, uummm I don't think so.

    Last the thing I want to see in my back yard when sitting out side drinking my cold beer is the tomb stone of a late or ex wife.

    -- Posted by ghost raider on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 4:15 PM
  • I am putting the ex right next to my compost pile and her tomb stone is going to resemble a fire hydrant. My dog will love this and it should help when I sell my property.

    -- Posted by ghost raider on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 4:28 PM
  • Many Reasons not to have a dead body bury in the back yard.

    potato toe stew ,tomato finger pie, corn teeth muffin. poo gut pie. finger lickin good toe nails cookies.

    growing things in the back if you forget where you planted them could cause problems

    -- Posted by Freedom on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 6:53 PM
  • Wow Geoff is this why my husband I voted you into office? For crying out loud shows us what you ran on or do we have to research it and show you. Mr Rist if your for this re-think it.

    -- Posted by Momof 2graduates on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 9:46 PM
  • *

    Ghost Raider and Freedom, there are no words to compare to what you said! I have to say this is really the strangest topic I have seen in a long time! I would hate to be a Real Estate agent and have to explain to a potential buyer that Ma and Pa are buried out next to the flower beds....this isnt the 19th Century anymore. I do have a question though.....if someone buried a loved one in their yard and then sold the house would the new owner have the right to remove said body from the yard? What if they want to put a pool in where granny is buried??

    -- Posted by Ds_Seester on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 10:53 PM
  • *

    I feel there should be a property size limit like say, a minimum of 2 acres of real property to be able to bury your loved one on your own property. EEw, still creepy.

    -- Posted by flyonthewall on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 11:13 PM
  • They might include some type of stipulation for the size of the land and how long the family has owned it.

    If its a long standing family homestead being passed down(ranch, etc) I see nothing wrong with it. But if its an acre or less in town and they've only lived there 10 years...ewwyyy

    -- Posted by IdahoGirl on Fri, Apr 25, 2008, at 12:22 PM
  • It should be left up to the family. The city should only regulate, not take away choices.

    Perhaps a pine box rather than nothing, like in the old days would be something anyone on modest means could meet.

    Why make regulations just so funeral home owners/govts get rich.

    FREEDOM is what America and our constitution is all about. Regulate only for health. Perhaps 1ac min; or not within so many feet of a WELL or septic tank or something; and must be so deep, and registered w the county.

    Please don't take away more rights illegally.

    -- Posted by RAM on Fri, Apr 25, 2008, at 4:15 PM
  • Regulation, I like that Idea, what about Prohibition can we Regulate that too so the Government can stop putting people in an early Grave. to me, its odd and kinda funny, when comes to live people the Government wants to do the Prohibition gig, when it comes to our Civil/health Rights and Freedoms they want too Regulate the Dead.

    what the Heck ever Happen too our Government, they are off their Rock, what a bunch of Nuts

    -- Posted by Freedom on Fri, Apr 25, 2008, at 5:47 PM
  • the Government is suppost too "Regulate the Living and do prohibition on the Dead" Not the other way around

    -- Posted by Freedom on Fri, Apr 25, 2008, at 5:58 PM
  • This is a strange and controversial topic that has drawn some outlandish comments which includes mine own, but what amazed me was the haphazard method by which members of the MH council quickly embraced this idea all in the name of "Freedom." It's apparent that there wasn't much thought given by select council members other than pure amateurish political grandstanding. (Next time hire a band and have a parade) To proceed in support of this local burial policy is dangerous and lends its self to future court entanglements, not our future, but that of our children and children's, children. How many times will it take to discover the improper burial of a person with an infectious disease before another grandstanding local stands and says "maybe this wasn't such a good idea?" What do we do the bodies that have been buried through generations and now the new property owners no longer want that body on their property. There are good reasons why we use controlled burial plots and as for the cost, that is manageable if one does their homework.

    Please, we already have enough Politian's that speak before thinking, do your homework and think about someone else's future other than your next step in your political career.

    It's apparent that certain local council members have greater aspirations and are using this topic as a pulpit to promote themselves. If you are serious about such an effort, do your homework first and think long tern beyond your life span.

    -- Posted by ghost raider on Sun, Apr 27, 2008, at 9:30 AM
  • I echo "mattnielsen"... If it's your property, and there is no harm to the public, it shouldn't matter. The government should NOT be able to tell you where to go when you die at a Federal, State or Local level.

    -- Posted by WABASH on Sun, Apr 27, 2008, at 11:12 AM
  • Hey Genius (Wabash), it's not your property its merely on lease to you, 3 generations from now it won't be your property and some poor sucker is going to wonder where to throw your remains.

    Here some news, you'll probably get relocated back to a cemetery at the tax payers expense because the new property owner doesn't want your anti-government carcass on THEIR PROPERTY.

    You are so anti-big government, has it dawned on you this policy will be Mandated by "your government" rather than put before the people for a vote.

    Quit thinking about yourself and save your ignorant anti-government rhetoric for some poor third world nation that's about to fall under a dictatorship.

    Any Politian/person can spout anti-big government rhetoric, because that's all they know and it gets votes. Historically some of our most ignorant and corrupt politicians have gotten themselves elected based on this reparative message that the" government is bad and I am good and here to help you. Why don't they research this and put it before the people for a vote rather than say we're anti-government and this is good.

    In other words act like a Statesman and not a cheap Politian. Lord knows we have enough one trick ponies in Washington!

    -- Posted by ghost raider on Sun, Apr 27, 2008, at 3:26 PM
  • Well Ghost Raider, it seems like you didn't take your blood pressure medicine today. Or are you like most republicans, who demonize anyone who doesn't think like you. I never sought out to slander you or to solicit your opinion. I merely stated my opinion. And by the way I fought in a war to defend my right to have one.

    My name is on the deed to my propperty, and I can do whatever I want. And guess what I like it that way! And by the way, I don't care what they do with your remains either after your gone. Get a grip! And loosen up a bit. You won't feel a thing!

    -- Posted by WABASH on Sun, Apr 27, 2008, at 6:31 PM
  • As luck should have it, I recently stumbled upon a brief biography of St. Monnica (sp Monica also) and she had an interesting viewpoint on where she, at least, should be buried: Anywhere.

    Her body did not need to be taken to her home country. No matter where she was buried God would know where, so on the Last Day he could find her. She wanted her sons to remember her at her favorite place, the altar, and that's all she cared about. I agree with the belief that the location doesn't matter.

    At first, when this local issue arose, my husband and I jokingly decided simply not to die. But then we figured we would be cremated and that our ashes would be mingled by our sons afterward and spread to the wind following the memorial service in our church of the one who passed away last.

    Personally, I probably would not purchase land that had been used in any way as a cemetery; even though my personal belief is that the soul returns to God at death and the body was merely a vessel for it during life, still the earthly remains should not be treated disrespectfully. Building a home, running a herd of cattle, landscaping, or putting in a swimming pool etc. by the new owners would be a disturbance.

    If for some reason the city council actually continues to allow burial on private land, I wonder if there might be a stipulation that the family of the deceased will be financially responsible and make the arrangements for its removal and reburial elsewhere when the property is sold.

    -- Posted by senior lady on Mon, May 5, 2008, at 9:22 PM
  • The property which I was born and raised on, I now reside again, taking care of last elder parent. This property came from my grandfather to my father and will become mine upon my last parents demise. I will then turn this property over to my daughter and her two children. All of my animals throughout my life are buried here. It is my wish to be buried here also, for I spent the majority of my life here. This property will NOT be leaving the family. If, for some reason, this place was placed on the market for sale, and a potential buyer could not tolerate a burial space of relatives from yrs. past...That would be THEIR LOSS!

    -- Posted by twillightmoon on Mon, Jan 17, 2011, at 11:57 AM
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