Unclaimed remains straining Yakima County coroner's budget

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Every year, the Yakima County Coroner's Office deals with the remains of people with no relatives. There's no one to pay the bill - except you, the taxpayer.

It's where deceased with no family come to rest: boxed inside a cooler at the county coroner's morgue. Some have been here for years.

"We do our best to get them with someone who loves them and do something with them, rather then just sitting in our cooler," said coroner Jack Hawkins.

The remains are stored for three to five years. If no one claims them, they are buried in a shared plot at the Tahoma Cemetery.

But with no one coming, there's no one to pay the bill for the cremation. Hawkins says taxpayers spend about $10,000 a year to cover the cost. Local funeral homes give a discounted rate of about $300 to $500 per cremation.

"Without them, it would cost us a whole lot more as a county agency to take care of these people," Hawkins said.

But the overall price could go up this year. Hawkins says they already have 20 unclaimed remains for this year and are expecting more. Last year, there were only 21.

So the coroner will have to pull money from other parts of his budget. He doesn't plan to ask commissioners for more funding.

"I may have to work with the funeral homes, and it will be a little bit tighter, but we're just going to have to work with it," he said. "And if we run out, we'll obviously have to find funds someplace else, because we have to do something with them."

People who do come to collect their loved ones also help cover the cost, by donating. Hawkins says his office raises about $1,000 a year from donations.

About 70 percent of remains are claimed each year.

"A lot of them are very thankful that they have found them and something's been done to take care of them," Hawkins said.

It's a cost he's willing to find a way to cover.

Relatives can look at the coroner's website to see the names of the deceased being stored.