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The Rising Cost of Dying in Vancouver

Photo: Arlen Redekop

Real estate prices have risen dramatically in Vancouver — and not just for the living.

The cost of a burial plot at Mountain View Cemetery has gone up more than 200 times in the last 30 years; today the city-owned facility charges $25,000 for a body-sized piece of ground.

“Cemetery space in Vancouver has a higher market value than in most of the rest of the country,” said manager Glen Hodges.

He said “record revenues” of $2.4 million were produced in 2015 from the sale of 75 graves.

“It has been higher-value spaces like caskets which have made the difference. We’re just starting to hit our stride since the caskets became available three years ago,” he said.

A freshly-dug grave has been covered with boards, left, while the soil is piled nearby for return to the site once the upcoming service has been completed.

In-ground space isn’t the only revenue generator. Income also climbed from the sale of 415 receptacles for cremated remains, at a cost of about $4,000 each.

“The taxpayers own the cemetery and we’re trying to make sure it’s the users and customers who pay for it,” he said.

Hodges added the price of land and geographical limitations in Vancouver are responsible for the surge in costs over the past 30 years.

“We’re down to 800 casket graves. It’s a finite amount. We’re the only cemetery in Vancouver,” he said.

Hodges believes new grave sites, which have been garnered from ground previously reserved for pathways, will find buyers despite the price hike.

“Some people say it’s so expensive. The vast majority are happy they can get in here,” he said.

Coun. Heather Deal said the cemetery is succeeding because of the “creative use of space.”

“I love it’s because it’s a public space. It’s revenue-generating, which I think is fairly unusual for a municipal cemetery. Anytime we can offset costs for the taxpayers is a good thing,” she said.

Revenues have increased 10-fold since the cemetery moved to a market-based system in 2008. New interment space at the facility, a 43-hectare site located at 41st and Fraser, was found by using land traditionally earmarked for pathways and creating above-ground memorial walls for cremated remains.

Cremated remains are placed in receptacles at newly-created memorial walls. The receptacles are a big reason that cemetery revenues climbed to a record $2.4 million in 2015.

But financial self-sufficiency has remained elusive and taxpayers continue to contribute an $820,000 annual subsidy.

Hodges said Mountain View is playing 100 years of catch-up caused by unrealistically low rates set at $110 per grave before 1986.

“The cemetery has always cost money. When it ran out of space in 1986, revenues really tanked at around $200,000 annually in the early 2000s,” he said.

Longtime field operations foreman Dennis Fabbro said six workers keep the lawns trimmed from March until October.

“People are buying graves not because they are dying tomorrow, but because they know prices will keep going up,” Fabbro said.

Additional flower beds have been dug up, bees buzz in rooftop hives and 600 trees were planted by the Park Board last year

“It is the city’s sixth-largest green space, not counting golf courses and Stanley Park,” said Hodges, adding the $25,000 casket fee means an entire family can stay together into eternity.

Two caskets are permitted to be buried every 40 years and up to eight in-ground cremation receptacles are also allowed.

“It’s a big outlay of cash right now but it allows capacity to have the entire family in one space in the cemetery,” he said.

Revenue increases are encouraging but Hodges said it will take four years until taxpayers’ $820,000 annual subsidy begins to be reduced.

A total of $20 million was borrowed to upgrade existing infrastructure, including a new administration building, works yard and celebration hall.

The plan approved by council in 2000 identified the potential to provide cremation space for another 100 years.

“Elimination of the subsidy will take an additional 10 to 15 years beyond 2020,” said Hodges. “At the same time we will be making significant payments on the outstanding capital funds. Our goal is to become a self-funding operation.”

via The Province

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