WILKES-BARRE -- Newswatch 16 has found the cremation fee in Luzerne County is now among the highest of any other county in our area. That fee in Luzerne County was recently raised to $60 but the county coroner says the increase was necessary.
There are some counties in Pennsylvania that do not charge anything for cremation. But in Luzerne County, the coroner's office says the money is needed to fund a new position. The office is stretched thin because of a rising number of drug overdose deaths that all have to be investigated.
"It was necessary because of the ongoing opioid epidemic," said Luzerne County coroner Bill Lisman.
The coroner investigated 140 drug overdose deaths last year, a new record, and unfortunately, he expects to break it again this year.
Luzerne County Council approved to increase the cremation fee from $35 to $60, in part, so the coroner could hire another worker.
"With the overwhelming workload that required in our office, I needed help," said Lisman.
A cremation fee is like a permit that funeral directors have to pay the county.
Newswatch 16 found cremation fees in our area generally run between $25, in Lackawanna County, to $50, in Monroe and Schuylkill County.
The increase to $60 in Luzerne County makes it the highest we found in our area.
"Some counties have no fees, others are a little more," said Ted Collins.
Collins is a funeral director in Wilkes-Barre. He says in the past two weeks since the new fee has been implemented, he has not received any complaints.
"It something that has to be taken care of, has to be paid."
Luzerne County Council, which raised the cremation fee, is also trying to curb the number of drug overdose deaths. It's now considering working with a private developer to open a halfway house to help rehabilitate women addicted to drugs and alcohol.
"People need those kinds of halfway house supports and there aren't a lot of those resources available. So it's just one of many things that can be done," said Luzerne County Councilman Rick Williams.
To help cover the cost of another worker at the coroner's office, the coroner also decreased the budget for an on-call staff position. That means the cost of the new employee will not mean a raise in taxes.