BELLINGHAM - City Council is set to approve small increases in fees at Bayview Cemetery, in an effort to recover more costs and reduce a taxpayer subsidy that amounts to more than $200,000 per year.
On Monday, Feb. 24, City Parks Operations Manager Marvin Harris told the council's parks committee that the city-owned cemetery has been unable to cover more than a portion of its annual $567,000 maintenance and operations costs, as more people choose cremation over traditional burial.
Harris presented the council with a long list of cemetery products and services and proposed small increases aimed at generating an additional $27,000 in 2014 - a small bite out of an annual city subsidy estimated at $221,480.
The proposed increases, unanimously approved by the parks committee, won't put Bayview's costs out of line with other public and private cemeteries in the region, Harris said.
Although he had no local figures, Harris told council members that Washington state ranks second in cremation popularity, with 69 percent of deceased people cremated.
"The cemetery industry is changing considerably," Harris said. "People are choosing different ways to be buried, or not to be buried. ... That puts a strain on the revenues."
Harris said Bayview needs to offer "scatter gardens" and other options for final resting places for cremation ashes. Harris and his staff expect to have some proposals ready for City Council for possible inclusion in the 2015 city budget.
Council member Gene Knutson asked Harris if the city has considered selling the 234-acre cemetery to a private cemetery operator. Harris said that option did not appear promising, because the cemetery has no endowment to cover maintenance costs, and any buyer would have to take on the city's obligation to cover those costs.
Brian Heinrich, Mayor Kelli Linville's executive coordinator, said the mayor and staff are looking at new options for managing the cemetery and its costs, and he told council members they may get some proposals in the coming months.
Bayview began as a city-owned operation in 1887, when the town of Whatcom purchased the first 10 acres of the property, before Whatcom merged with nearby towns to form Bellingham.