Travis County Commissioners Court
Tuesday, July 12, 2011 (Agenda)
>> item 12, consider and take appropriate action regarding the Travis County indigent burial policy including the following: a, responses to the request for proposal, b, recommended immediate action to increase burr capacity; c, direction regarding long-term st.
louis cardinals; d, county cremation policy; and e, sources of funding.
>> good morning, judge and Commissioners.
we are here to give you the results and get some direction from you.
we issued a proposal -- a request for proposal --
>> cyd, I think you need to move the mic.
>> speak into the mic.
>> I'm sorry.
cyd grimes, purchasing agent.
we issued a request for proposal for cemetery plots and related services in April.
there are four properties in Travis County.
three of those are owned by sci Texas funeral services which operates as cook walledden here in the county.
they indicated they were interested in submitting a proposal but they did not submit in time so we did not receive any proposals by the deadline.
however, because this is a professional service and because we need these plots, we went ahead and contacted cook walden who did submit a proposal.
where we are right now from my understanding and experts are here to discuss in more detail, but we need approximately 180 burial plots a year.
and in order to allow us time to plan for purchase and develop a new cemetery, we need to purchase existing lots for probably the next three years.
that's a total of about 540 plots.
we did get costing.
it totals up with the plots, the vaults and internments, it's $2,160,000.
cook walden currently has 160 contiguous plots, meaning they are all in the same area of the cemetery, and those are available now.
there are additional plots that would get us to the 540 that they have available but they have not been developed for us yet.
so we have the opportunity at this time to purchase 540 plots and we need direction from you on how you would like for us to proceed and we will, of course, whatever direction we'll continue to negotiate a contract with them and bring back those terms to the court.
so from a procurement standpoint, that's what is available to us and I know there's some other policy issues that we want to discuss.
so that's where we are on the plots and we just need your direction on where we're going to get the money, how many you want us to go ahead and pursue, if they want to go ahead and plan for these next three years and go ahead and buy these plots now.
>> well, I had a little concern about -- I really don't object to how we are pursuing things and I know it's a lot of different components that include like cremation and I think cook walden, they do all of it because I remember we had a work session some time ago and we had the different persons who wanted to participate in the r.f.p.
and things like that to submit things to us.
and, of course, it appeared that they have maybe a situation where they can deal with all of the things, with the burial, they have the -- you know, the plots and the urns and the cremation aspects, just the whole nine yards.
but it's only just for a period of time as far as the number of plots that they have here that's available now.
according to what the full -- the full projected need of the county, in other words, we have what, about 180 deals that we are required to deal with a year, and, of course, those numbers may -- are going to increase because of population growth within Travis County.
so it just appears to me that we may need to look at something more far reaching, in my opinion, that we even may need to be looking at probably purchasing property to the effect where we can have persons to be buried.=)n so it's a lot on the plate here.
let me ask this question.
if we have looked at any possible way to determine if
>> [indiscernible] purchased because we looked at this situation, it's pretty expensive, the plot, the vault, the burial and interment, it gets pretty expensive.
however, has there been any determination made as far as what -- what that would cost if, let's say if the county owned the land.
and I know the cemetery space there is running out where we are now; however, if the county owned the land, what would that equate to?
in other words, if we would put an actual plot, the number of plots in an acre, just for an example, an acre of land, how many persons could we exactly get buried in an acre of land there if we owned the land is something I was kind of looking at far beyond where we're talking about because right now we're talking about a three-year possible situation here.
and, of course, then what happens after the three years?
we're right back or either have to do something again.
>> and, of course, we need to look at the long range.
>> now, if anyone can determine to me how -- just an example, an acre of land, we're not talking about the county may need to purchase just one acre, but let's say we base it on the example of an acre.
an acre of land, how many persons, how many plots can we get on an acre of land?
and, of course, that will help -- help I think determining what costs would be just for an acre.
I don't know how many plots, you know, the dimension of one plot, what is that dimension, I don't really know.
so I'm trying to get there and if someone can investigate to tell me how many plots you can get on an acre of land if the county owned the land.
because we have to look at far, far, far -- years well ahead of three.
>> and Commissioner, I think that your team here, hhs and t.n.r.
have been talking about that long-term solution and it appears that we might have to purchase land and have another cemetery.
so what we're presenting to you today on the proposal is this is a stop gap method for the next three years that provides us those spaces until we all and y'all can make that decision, look for land, see what we can buy it for.
I think they have been doing some of that research.
so I mean we are looking at this as the bigger picture and we know that we're going to have to do something and this is sort of a intermediate step to get us these burial spots in the interim.
and I can't answer your question on how many people --
>> Commissioner Davis, I can answer that for you.
>> thank you.
>> don ward with t.n.r.
>> thank you, don.
>> I think we discussed this some time ago and it may not be fresh in your mind but we had a work session that we discussed this topic.
approximately 400 plots per acre.
>> that is significant.
that is very significant.
>> yes, sir.
and we did develop a plan that we put in the preliminary budget this year and it's approximately 50 to 60 acres of property I believe for about a 50-year life of a cemetery.
we don't want to get into a cemetery where we would have a five or a ten-year life and then be looking for something down the road again.
>> we want to get something that would give us an extended period of time.
we also have researched the area possible for this based on state regulations.
there is a very small window in the northeast corner of the county that has available property -- you have to be certain miles from a jurisdiction, certain miles from this size population that is correct sort of thing and that's it, that's the only possible place.
and it's a very small window, it's farmland, but it's about the most remote area county that there is.
and the price tag we put in the budget is 2.1 million, full development and ready to go.
>> how many years would that take us out for $2.1 million?
>> that would take us out to about 50 years at the rate we're projecting, also with increases.
>> now, it would work -- it would work similar to the way now?
>> it would be very different.
>> how would it work?
>> first off, we would go by cemetery guidelines, which I'm not total 100% familiar with, we would have vaults, we would have irrigation system, we would have surveyed plots and areas out.
we would have a building where the families could gather.
we would have structures, we would have utilities, which we do not have now, water being specific.
basically you are developing a site that you would get into a regular type cemetery business such as cook walden.
and we did estimate the cost per plot doing that 4800 to $5,000 per plot.
>> yes, sir.
>> so the $2.1 million is for land acquisition.
not the other --
>> land acquisition and development.
that would be infrastructure, utility installation, that sort of thing.
so you know, and again, that's depending on I believe we estimated $5,000 per acre on that land.
so depending on the cost of land, it could go up or down.
>> well, my own view is that I wouldn't put in place a three-year interim plan.
I mean I would -- I would try to put something in place to get us 10 to 12 months.
so if we've got 40 burial plots already, then I guess I'd have a contract in place for another hundred or so.
>> and I might add, judge, by Monday we'll be down to 35.
>> yes, sir.
>> and I may add that we kind of have been looking at this two or three years.
I don't know that it gets any simpler or easier or more affordable.
so I think we ought to treat it a bit more -- with a bit more urgency.
we put in place, though -- that would be equivalent to 135, 140 burial plots which ought to get us to 10 to 12 months and have a permanent solution by then.
but I just think we kind of have to go ahead and bite the bullet and put in place a permanent solution, you know, asap.
and there's nothing to keep us from coming back in seven or eight months if we need another interim augmentation.
but I think our plan ought to be to go ahead and address that.
now, in addition to additional plots that we can use almost immediately, there's also the cremation policy that we've looked at.
there is a law on one hand, and then there are the funeral homes we've been using that are a lot more strict in the law, miss gearhart?
>> what is cook walden's.
>> we didn't ask for pricing on that.
>> I think we ought to do that.
I think we ought to get with p.b.o.
and find out whether we can -- we're looking at funding part of 100 if the court follows this strategy this year, but most of it next year, and I would just plan to get us through I guess this time next year or through may or something.
>> so about 180 plots?
>> I would add 100 and I would plan to use the 35 or 40 that we have right now.
now, we need to negotiate and see if we can get that done, right?
>> I think three years, if -- that's too long for an interim deal.
and plus too costly.
>> so judge, are you authorizing us to -- t.n.r.
to go try to buy that land?
>> well, no, I'm not doing that.
I'm laying out a recommendation for the court to consider because I thought about the three-year deal, I think that's too long.
I would put in place an interim to last 10 to 12 months and plan to have a permanent solution by then.
in the Biscoe suggestion is followed, then what we would do is touch base with the funeral homes that we contract with, see if they want to help with this 80 to 100 plot initiative.
the other thing is if cook walden is the only one interested, find out whether the fee that they quoted would be the same whether it's 100 or what, 300 or 400.
>> there is that.
there is little I guess finding out what their cremation policy is.
I think we have all the others, don't we?
>> I think we have -- I think we know that a policy is --
>> I don't have that information.
but here's what we know, judge.
sherri fleming, county executive for health and human services.
with the funeral homes we currently do business with, we know some either operate or have access to a crematorium.
and they have policies they have shared with us anecdotally to say that they expect that all appropriate family members will be present before they would accept a cremation, if will you.
so that -- that's sort of the one thing.
the other thing I just want to make sure the court is aware is that we're averaging between 160 and 180 burials per year.
so if the -- if the assumption is that we will replace some of those with cremations, that is entirely possible and we certainly will do our best to accommodate.
that but I think it's important for to us realize that not only is there the acquisition of the land but the setup time which t.n.r.
can speak to before we would be able to bury the first body in a new cemetery.
so I would just make a recommendation that we would consider those facts as we move forward.
>> last thing I want to see happen that we come short of the objective of doing what we are required to do as far as dealing with the indigent burial.
and, of course, I recall some of the conversation during the work session that when we had the different funeral representatives here, and, of course, some say they could do cremation, some say they couldn't.
if someone wanted to be cremated, they knew exactly where they could go to get that done.
what we didn't want to see happen was that we take away the outreach from those particular persons or choices that they would like to make to make sure that their loved ones, whomever, are funalized in the setting they would like to have it done.
and, of course, a lot of those things were discussed and I vaguely remember that policy.
I know that they could deal with it.
but one of the things if I could recall was having to retain the urns that store the ashes of the person that was cremated, they have to have a space for that just in case someone, you know, would like to review it or whatever, some relative later come up -- it was a lot of policy involved in that.
>> and we can design -- we can design our cemetery to include all those features.
>> yeah, and that was part of it.
>> but Commissioner Davis, we can also negotiate with -- because we will have to issue another request for services for funeral homes and we can include in that solicitation their information on how they store and catalog ashes so that they can provide that service for us as well.
>> but I guess what I'm really looking at is an average of 100 -- we have to consider 180 burials a year as an average.
and, of course, my concern is making sure that we stay ahead of that number than short of that number.
then, of course, we have -- if we're looking at short range, long range, but sooner or later we're going to have to look at long range just as we're looking at short range objectives here.
sooner or later we're going to have to bite the bullet here and deal with having enough plots available to us where we can actually deal with the growth of this community when it comes to dealing with our indigent burial policies.
>> and Commissioner Davis, in hearing what you are saying, I think it's important that -- that we get direction to pursue that piece of property now because what I'm hearing, there's just one -- there's a real small shot of us getting that.
so if we're going to be ready in three years, we need to go ahead and get permission to pursue purchasing land.
>> well, I don't have no objection to that is correct but I think, you know, the court -- something of that nature, I think we need to start at least looking into it, in my opinion.
>> I agree.
>> that's me speaking.
>> one last thing I would add, judge, I personally feel that 100 is minimal.
I mean the rate that we've been having recently, if a minimum set of 150, I think that would get to us the 10 or 12 months that you are looking.
I think the 100 plots would -- we would be in some short supply with the outside vendor in a short time.
and my recommendations don't settle on anything less than 150 at this time.
>> I think health and human services will join that recommendation and for the purposes of those persons who might be watching, this is a mandated service that the state requires we take care of.
and so we can expect this to move forward.
now, to, you know, just so that you also have this information, you certainly can look at the requirements and eligibility of your policy if you wanted to, you know, curtail the number of folks who qualify.
but that would not be health and human services' recommendation at this time.
>> so we have 35 left, right?
we think we'll do 160 a year.
>> the maximum is 180.
or is the -- is the average 180?
>> the average -- I would see that that's an average.
>> how many did we do last year?
>> I believe we did 180 last year.
>> year before?
>> I would have to get that information to you later.
>> I guess I think we ought to put ourselves in a position where we eliminate the immediate stress, but that we understand that we have to move on this matter.
if we contract for 100 to so, it would -- if we contract up to 135 that we use as needed, that will get us to 170 from today.
>> yes, sir.
>> and if the contract is as needed, then if we -- if we put the permanent solution in place, we will never spend the money, assuming we paid like monthly or something like that, right?
but we have to fund it when we have a contract.
the rest of this year for this fiscal year and what the fund next year through the budget process, that is significant amount of money.
and if on top of that we put ourselves in a position to acquire a large enough tract of land to meet our long-term needs, you are looking at a whole lot of money invest odd the front end to get us through roughly a year.
you are looking at close to $3 million.
if the land costs 2.1.
and you contract for 135 beds at the rate that we're looking at, I mean plots, rather, at the rate we're looking at, you get to 3 million pretty quickly.
that just gets us through the year.
>> well, the two million -- if we acquire land --
>> the 2.1 will buy land and development of a cemetery.
the quicker we get that done, the less plots you will need to purchase elsewhere.
>> but y'all are saying we should give ourselves some months to do that.
I don't know that that one tract of land that -- that don mentioned is the one we should get, but I don't have another one.
it would seem we would at least try to look, we would try to look and if that's the best one, that's the best one.
what size is that tract of land?
>> that area, it's the area that's potential to find a cemetery, there's not one specific tract.
it's, you know, it's farmland out there.
so what we would have to do is find the property owners, figure out what was accessibility, lots of factors go into it.
the parameters of finding this thing, you need access, you need utilities.
can we get utilities.
so there's a lot of -- a lot of things that could go into this.
>> you are almost liking at five, six, seven months just to figure out whether you have located the ideal tract of land the, and what you are saying is the cost would be substantial.
>> yes, sir.
>> I guess all I'm saying is if we have a contract where we pay for the number that we use, it makes sense to go ahead and get if we think 180 is our number and we subtract 35 from that because we already have that many, then we contract for the difference, which is 135, 140, 145.
so 145 plots will cost a significant amount of money.
but we think we need that before we can adopt a permanent solution and implement it.
>> I mean that's
>> [one moment, please, for change in captioners] that we're looking for, 50 acres.
I mean, you know, like I said we don't want to be in this for 10 years and have to turn around and look for another shot in 10 years or 15 years.
we want to go someplace that we're going to be able to do our business, if we're going to stay in the cemetery business, we need to be in it for real.
not just jumping around.
we need to find someplace we're going to be for 50 years, that would be my recommendation.
>> maybe that is the question, the long term solution to operating your own cemetery as well as some other alternative.
the creation may slow the use of cemetery plots but won't replace the need for it.
so that might be -- the discussion that you want to have is your commitment to -- to staying in the cemetery business and therefore operate your own cemetery or have an amount active, what we were discussing which is extremely pricey.
there's resources that you possess within your own shop.
I think t.n.r.
will tell you if you put in the staff time, the care of the international cemetery, staff time, hss, we probably could get to that same number, you know, as we the number that we are with the exception of the vaults and having to, you know, pay for someone else to dig the graves.
that may be a discussion that you want to consider.
I would also just finally say this proposal has included 160 contiguous plots.
therefore, they would be a section of this cemetery that we could -- that we could direct your constituents to.
should they have to avail themselves of this service.
so that is an advantage versus having those persons who received services from our program sort of scattered throughout the cemetery.
so I would also encourage you to consider that as you make your decisions today.
>> well, is just occurred to me, though, even if you did your search, I guess to -- to also equate the numbers after that search that you are doing, all within the realm of the search itself, especially on the new cemetery, if it's going to be a 50 year deal, long outreach and effect, so we may not have to revisit this so often, but it just occurred to me that all of those expenses ought to be revealed within the search.
in other words, if it takes staff to do this, dah-dah-dah, if it takes the utility, all of those things, I think, need to be brought into consideration for the overall cost of what we're doing, but at the end of the day, if we are running out of space, we're running out of space, of course we'll have to get somebody else to do it, which is very expensive and -- and on the short term, but on the long term, I think we need to -- to maybe look at -- at a search.
but I think again within that search, we need to put the amount of -- of money that will be associated within that search and I just think that need to be a part of the process.
>> I've got a three-part motion.
first part is for us to attempt to contract for those 160 contiguous plots.
at the vendor that you mentioned.
>> and we need a deal where we basically contract to use those plots as needed.
>> which I don't think that was their proposal.
>> oh, it will --
>> we'll see what we can do.
>> so we need to find out basically whether they will agree to that kind of language and whether the -- whether the per plot or per cadaver burial fee remains the same.
the second part would be for us to put together sort of a written statement of our real estate need.
what I have in mind there is for us to approve something that we can -- we can shop for real estate, realtors with.
and if we're going to do this, we may as well be fair and look at different parts of the county.
the third part would be for us to go ahead and gather what we need about cremation to look at our policy to try to figure out what the funeral homes need.
that's the motion.
now the kind of explanation is we have been using four or five funeral homes to work with us.
so if we could continue to work with them on the 35 or so that we have at the international cemetery, it's -- I think it would be fair to them.
on the other hand if we contract with a vendor, for the 160 plots, then we almost have an exclusive contract with that vendor and so I guess we could --
>> but that would be for the burial only, judge.
the preparation of the body and transport to the cemetery, would still be provided by our existing contractors.
>> then we need to see the full budget next time, as well as get with p.b.o.
and try to figure out how we would fund that for the rest of this fiscal year and so they will know that we need -- did they put you all in the preliminary budget, do you know?
>> the land?
>> the t.n.r.
>> we had two million in there and it was not recommended for approval.
>> so it's not in the -- it's not in --
>> it is.
it's just not --
>> [multiple voices]
>> it wasn't recommended.
>> the request.
>> the -- your request is
>> [multiple voices]
>> that's right.
>> but I can predict that there will be at least two very unenthusiastic and robust presentations during the budget process from two departments who value a different perspective on that.
>> what this motion does is really hopefully get us to advance the ball so we really can make some firm decisions.
can we do all of that in one week, especially with the negotiations.
>> I think we could get back with cook walden and have a discussion with them and then leave it up I guess to don to come up with the statement on the real estate needs and then sherri is working with marietta on the cremation policy.
so we -- we should be able to --
>> are we ready for the cremation policy, though?
>> marietta has worked on it.
we have a red-line draft.
>> it looks -- I think it looks good, but it's not part of this motion.
>> it's part of this --
>> well, it is
>> [multiple voices]
>> bring it back.
>> we have a whole lot of information from the funeral homes regarding cremation.
I don't know that marietta has seen that.
>> the policy was drafted so that we would have our policy and would include individual contracts which might, as long as they meet the --
>> -- base that we established in our policies, if we were more stringent than the law that would be okay.
each funeral home may have a slightly different one.
that we would get to review it, we would approve it, it would be the same as or more stringent than the law.
that's what our policy would say so that we don't rewrite the policy for every contract or every funeral home that comes forward.
that was the intent the way theolicy was drafted to have something in place that would allow us to do our contracts as we need to without having to change our policy every time.
so we didn't include those details.
well, let's plan to carefully review the draft policy between now and next Tuesday.
>> it would be good to get that information from the funeral home so that we know if the policy fits.
>> we can make those requests.
I would adjust briefly that our current funeral home contracts are fine with the -- with the whatever -- whatever is the final outcome about the funeral plots today.
where we will have to rebid the whole group is when we have the cremation policy in place --
>> not necessarily rebid.
we can negotiate with the funeral homes to add the cremation, if there's others that are interested --
>> there will be some that have access to those services and some that do not.
some new ones may want to come in.
we will work together with purchasing on what needs to happen.
but in terms of what happens today related to the stopgap measure those funeral homes will be fine with the contracts that they have today.
>> can somebody outline for us next week, a one pager indicating how this would work.
>> oh, sure.
>> meaning using our current partners as well as if we were able to negotiate a contract for those contiguous plots, how that would work, total fiscal impact and the p.b.o.'s take on how we would get through the end of this fiscal year and I guess next year.
>> I didn't say.
>> along with this motion, I want to make sure that -- that it's understood that in the real estate is one week long enough for you to consider all of the other -- you mentioned only one portion of the county.
>> we're going to need more on the lapped search, Commissioner.
>> you mentioned
>> [multiple voices]
>> this search and I guess my question is how long will you need to do -- apply the same research for other parts of the county?
to make sure that we -- in other words, I think we need to put all of that to the table and see what's available?
>> I have kind of jumped ahead on that Commissioner.
I have already done the research where we could locate according to state guidelines.
the one spot that we can locate is the northeast part of the county.
there's not any other place.
we don't have the viability to go anywhere else.
we're restricted because of 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's guidelines that you have to be two miles, three miles, four miles, five miles.
when we did -- I had our gs guys draw me a map and show me where that would happen.
tom possible place is the northeast part of the -- the only possible place is the northeast part of the country.
>> that needs to be part of the backup when you come back.
>> we can do that.
>> then have the associated guidelines with that as far as you making that determination.
>> that's not a problem.
>> the motion does include all of Travis County.
for that search.
>> but the statute prohibits us from doing that, Commissioner.
>> it's like -- it's like locating a landfill, you
>> [ou can put one.ements where
>> I think that the -- the statute should be accommodated with whatever depiction, that's basically what I'm talking about.
>> the landfill is a real bad example by the way.
I was doing all right until you mentioned that
>> [multiple voices] he have.
>> precinct 1 --
>> > sorry about that.
>> if I may request that we bring this back on the 26th?
that would give us time --
>> two weeks.
>> if I may make that request to give us that time to gather this information for you, but also I'll be out of the county on county business next Tuesday and would want to be --
>> when do you want to come back?
>> the 26th would be fine.
I think that I see my colleagues agreeing on that.
>> Commissioner Gomez seconded by motion, right?
any more discussion?
that motion is really for us to take a real good look at specifics more than anything else but to get as much done as possible.
we probably ought to make available a copy of take statute governing location of semi inventories so we can -- now, let me tell you this, though.
what I have learned is that real estate brokers, real estate agents in different parts of the county can help you find what you are looking for if you indicate to them you are serious and money is available.
I'm not saying what they will come up with, but I'm saying they will give it 110% effort.
if we have that --
>> I've had them contact me in the past saying I'm ready to sell you this property.
>> I was one of them.
>> we'll do our best.
>> any more discussion?
all in favor?
that passes by unanimous vote.
thank you all very much.
move that we recess to 1:45.
>> all in favor?
that passes by unanimous vote.
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