Grave robbers: Family charged for overtime funeral

A LOCAL family is reeling after they were charged a $220 fee by the Southern Downs Regional Council for a funeral running overtime.

The family of the late Venesia Cooper, wife of former Warwick Shire councillor Des Cooper, were appalled by the fee, which was passed on to them after the service at Eden Gardens a fortnight ago.

It is understood the Coopers are the 12th family this year to receive an overtime fee from the council.

Mrs Cooper's son Gary, a former Warwick Shire councillor himself, told the Daily News the whole situation 'stinks'.

"The funeral directors rang the week after the funeral and informed me of the charge," he said.

"I don't care who gets charged - I just think it's fairly unjust."

The issue caused a stir at last week's council meeting, when a debate raged after deputy mayor Ross Bartley called on the council to donate the $220 back to the Cooper family.

A frustrated Cr Bartley stood up and told the meeting he would donate the $220 out of his own pocket, telling councillors his hat was there for them to put money of their own in.

"I wouldn't have known about the charge if it hadn't been brought to my attention," he said.

"I would like a review of cemetery charges before the next budget."

While the family was aware of the overtime fee before the funeral, Gary Cooper said they had gone to the effort of sitting down and working it out.

"We didn't have control over the size of the funeral - you've got no control over that," he said.

"I haven't seen the invoice so I won't actually know the break-up of the charges until I see it.

"There are rules and regulations in the system our councillors don't even know about."

Cr Bartley raised the issue at the council meeting in Warwick last week.

"I find it very disappointing and totally unacceptable," he said.

"Are we all going to have morning funerals now? It's despicable."

Cr Bartley called on the council to donate back $220 to the Cooper family, a move which divided councillors.

Cr Jamie Mackenzie said he believed the charge was 'highly inappropriate'.

"To me cemeteries are one of our core businesses and we should be bending over backwards where we can," he said.

In the end Mayor Peter Blundell cast a deciding vote against the donation.

"There may be other ways we could deal with this," he said. "The fact is the family was aware of the fee."

Amongst councillors with a strong view was Cr Vic Pennisi, who said he believed the whole system needed a review.

"I believe passionately that we should just have the one charge irrespective of when the funeral is held - it needs to be one flat fee," he said. "I think we need to review everything we do with our cemeteries."

The call for a review of fees was welcomed by acting CEO David Tuxford, who said cemetery charges were an emotional issue.

"For as many complaints we get we have as many compliments," he said.

"We may need to look at all our fees and charges so we are all aware."

Overtime fees

Overtime fee is $110 per half an hour to a maximum of $1100.

Applies if burials are booked to commence at the cemetery later than 2.45pm at Eden Gardens, Warwick or Stanthorpe, 2.30pm at Allora or Killarney and 2.15pm at others.

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