Residents shocked by burial fee increase

Penticton residents, young and old, said Thursday they were shocked by an increase in cemetery rates, adopted this week by the city council.

For a standard plot size alone, the fees have nearly doubled from $555 in 2013 for residents to $971 in 2014. For non-residents the fee has gone from $735 to $1,286.25. The decision impacts Lakeview and Fairview cemeteries, but Fairview is closed to new burials.

"It seems to me that even when you are on your way out, they find a way to grab money from you," said a woman who gave her name as Lily. "It just seems like there is no compassion, only money grabbing these days."

The decision is based on a cemetery master plan conducted by the city last fall that showed that the city's Perpetual Care Fund was in need of a boost to ensure further demand was met.

The report also found that interment services in Penticton were well below those in other Okanagan Valley municipalities, with staff doing considerable research to ensure the city remains competitive in terms of associated fees.

"We are trying to take the burden off taxpayers by having the users pay a greater share, and we need to begin planning for the future which involves an increased demand," said Mayor Garry Litke. "And we currently can't supply that demand without building some infrastructure. By increasing the user fees we build a reserve fund to finance that infrastructure in the future."

Litke said the city has also received complaints from residents about maintenance at the old Fairview cemetery, where many of the city's pioneers are buried.

"Some of the funding would go toward that because we need to honour our pioneers," he said.

Other councillors would have preferred spreading the increase out over a greater period of time.

Both Councillors John Vassilaki and Helena Konanz voted against the rates going up so much in 2014.

"When it comes to people dying, the poor die just as often as the rich and can't afford to pay those funds out," said Vassilaki. "I think it will be a blow to the community."

Konanz voted against it, she said, because it looked like it was necessary to raise the rates, but it is too much in a one year period.

Ray Hanson, the president and general manager at Hansons' Arbor Funeral Chapels and Crematorium, which has five locations, including one in Penticton, agrees.

Before this even happened, he said, he was hearing complaints from people about the costs associated with cemeteries.

"If they did this over a period of time, no more than 10 per cent a year, it would be easier on people," he said. "This is too much too soon, and it's just going to cut down on the number of people who use the cemetery, making it a vicious circle."

Resident Jennette Boucher believes the big hike will be a burden to many.

"I just think that is a huge hike and will be tough to pay," she said. "It's already bad enough when someone passes away, with so much to worry about, without them increasing the prices."

Another resident, who declined to give her name, who lives near Fairview cemetery, described it as way too much.

"It just seems like everything keeps increasing, but our wages don't," she said.

Others in the community suggested planning ahead and looking at other alternatives to deal with the increase.

"It's par for the course, and people need to plan in advance," said a man, who did not give his name. "That way it's not left for the people who are left behind."

A woman who gave her name as Marianne said she finds that when it comes to dying, people view things as having to be a certain way, but it doesn't have to be like that.

"It's a shock to see the fees go up, but there are alternatives," she said.

Some also defended the city council's decision.

Jeff Everden, funeral director at Everden Rust Funeral Services and Crematorium, said there was a small fee increase a few years ago and a larger one about 10 years ago, so when you look at the history, it's surprising they didn't raise it sooner.

"They have made an increase, and it is shocking," he said. "But when you compare it provincially, it is probably still within the norm and on the lower side."




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