To choose or be chosen

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Last Tuesday was one of those days when it didn’t pay to be a member of Creston Town Council. Not literally, of course. They get paid regardless of the issues they deal with. But a request to waive the cemetery charges for infants’ interments clearly flustered Council, members of which were hit with the thought of an (unborn) infant death and the impact such a tragedy has on a family.

To be fair, the request should probably never have hit the meeting agenda. It was made by a third party, G.F. Oliver Funeral Chapel Inc. without providing any information beyond the request itself. It is the funeral chapel’s policy to waive all fees, excluding actual product costs, to family’s who suffer the death of an infant.

My immediate reaction was the same one I have as I write this — no. Council should not waive fees based on age.

There is no denying the emotional impact of the request, but I pointed out to council members in private conversations later that no death, or only the rare one, occurs without imposing sadness on a family and friends. Like it or not, I just couldn’t see any argument that would make me believe the death of an unborn baby is more tragic than that of any other human being, and therefore no more deserving of special consideration. It certainly isn’t a judgment call that Town Council should have to make. After all, the Town of Creston has an obligation to provide for its cemetery services, and to maintain its condition in perpetuity. The fees charged do not cover that “forever” service, a fact that has come to light with a recent close look at cemetery costs.

A town council acts according to many rules, including town bylaws, and those shouldn’t, and often can’t, be taken lightly. Laws imposed by senior governments don’t have a fudge factor—they must be honoured. And, while bylaws can be skirted in many cases by passing an exemption motion (most commonly such motions are made for zoning issues, often because development planning can be muddied by historical factors like odd lot shapes and the like), they probably shouldn’t be, and certainly not in the case of an unusual and emotional request. In this case, waiving the cemetery fees amounts to a donation to a family, a donation borne by all property taxpayers.

Interestingly, the discussion in the meeting focused on the recent death of an unborn infant. It was noted that another person had stepped up and created a Go Fund Me page to raise money for the family in question. Go Fund Me and other “crowd-sourcing” fundraisers on the Internet raise personal concerns for me, given that there is no rock solid way to determine if the funds are used as their donors intended, but the simple fact is that they are completely voluntary. If people want to make donations—and often they have personal information, like a connection to the recipients—they are welcome to do so. It’s a case of buyer beware. But that isn’t the case when council is asked to make an exception for a particular situation, as happened in this case. Taxpayers, not councilors, would be on the hook for the money involved.

Out of curiosity, after the meeting I went into Go Fund Me to learn more about this particular issue, but also to get a sense of who is out there asking for what. To no one’s great surprise, I am sure, it is an eyebrow-raising experience. First, there is a charge, not huge, but still a charge. Go Fund Me charges a five per cent fee plus “A small processing fee of about 3% will also be deducted from each donation.” Your hundred bucks donated means $92 goes to the intended recipient. Not bad, actually. There are countless registered charities that are more in the business of receiving than giving.

There is also some serious gall involved in some of the pleas, which range from help for travel to veterinarian fees for a now-dead animal to a T-Rex mask. But, hey, donating is still your choice—whatever turns your crank.

It seems like there are systems in place to make sure the money raised gets into the hands of the right people, but I doubt it would be difficult to create a scam. I particularly like the soothing information that says “Want trust? Get verified. Learn how to verify your Go Fund Me campaign through Facebook to confirm your identity and give your campaign credibility.” Because, I suppose, no one has every scammed Facebook to enroll.

More to the point, there is no way, and I repeat no way, to ensure that the money donated is actually used for the purposes you have in mind. I suppose this is one of the benefits of living in a small community, though. Odds are, if you are making a donation, you know the person who organized the campaign or the intended beneficiary. This provides no guarantees, but there is a level of comfort, which counts for a lot these days.

In the end, I would sooner donate to a Go Fund Me campaign for a request that Town Council wrestled with than have it taken from my tax dollars. Choice is the key factor in this case.