Small Town News

Small Town Business

Cost of Living High But So Is Dying as Cemetery Fees Rise

Vineyard Gazette of Edgartown, Massachusetts

- Advertisement -

The rising cost of Island real estate may soon follow Chilmark residents and family members into the afterlife.

Realizing that the lots at Abel's Hill Cemetery on South Road were a relative bargain, the Chilmark cemetery commission voted in October to gradually increase the rates to bring them in line with others in the region.

Leases at the historic cemetery would increase by $100 for full lots and $50 for half lots, beginning Jan. 1. The increases would continue each year until the prices reach the desired level.

A full-sized lot in Chilmark now goes for $1,200, which is only a fraction of a typical price on the Cape. Each one measures 11 feet by 22 feet and holds four caskets. A half-lot goes for $600 and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. In new and unused lots, the caskets may also be double-stacked.

Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll told the selectmen on Tuesday that the commission had cited leases of up to $5,000 elsewhere in the region. The selectmen seemed taken aback by the proposal and delayed a vote until they could gather more information.

Selectmen Bill Rossi said he would support the increase for a year to see how it goes, but questioned the need for much higher rates. "It doesn't have to be the highest real estate on the Island," he said, preferring to favor a rate "comparable with other towns on the Island."

Police chief Brian Cioffi, who attended the meeting, said $5,000 lots would be more typical of what he called "corporate cemetery prices" on the mainland, and that municipal plots usually go for much less.

Most cemeteries on the Cape and Islands are owned by towns, families or churches. Twelve on the Island are town-owned, including four in Edgartown and five in Tisbury. West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Aquinnah each has one.

Edgartown offers full lots for $2,800, with each lot containing four graves. The rates are the same at all four municipal cemeteries in town, although only the New Westside Cemetery on Robinson Road has vacancies.

Jen Morgan, cemetery superintendent for both Chilmark and Edgartown, said fewer than a dozen full lots remained in Edgartown, and that a major expansion project was on the horizon. But she said Chilmark still had plenty of room. "They are not at a point where they will run out," she said.

She agreed that Island grave sites were a bargain. "I am told all the time by other funeral homes that the prices here are ridiculously cheap," she said. Municipal prices on the mainland range from about $600 to $900 for a single-burial lot. The town of Brewster, for example, charges only $700 at the Brewster Memorial Cemetery, while the private Lower Road Cemetery in the same town charges $1,100 per lot.

"We own the land, so the prices have not gone up very much here," Brewster cemetery commissioner Joan Carstanjen told the Gazette on Wednesday. She added that cremation was one way for families to save money, since several urns could fit within a single grave.

The town of Harwich owns 18 cemeteries, more than anywhere else on the Cape. It charges $800 per grave for residents, and $900 for nonresidents. The private Holy Trinity Cemetery, also in Harwich, charges even less, at $600 per grave.

In other towns on the Cape, leases may range from $600 to $800, said Harwich cemetery commissioner Robbin Kelley, who was surprised that prices here were so low. "That is not even close to anyone on the mainland," she said of the Chilmark rate, agreeing that towns here should charge more.

"A lot goes into it," she said of cemetery maintenance. "They have to maintain those grave spaces forever."

The Edgartown cemetery commission had a special meeting on Thursday to review the town's cemetery regulations — the first such review in about 30 years. Commissioner Andrew Kelly said he believed that low rates across the Island were at least partly due to outdated regulations.

Commissioner Elizabeth Villard added that Edgartown has sought to keep the rates affordable for town residents.

"Especially if we have no affordable housing, let's at least keep affordable graves," she said. As one option, the town offers four-by-four cremation lots for $300.

Oak Bluffs charges $600 per burial lot, with each lot having two graves. Vineyard Haven charges $300 for a single grave for residents and $500 for a nonresidents Both towns also offer cremation lots.

In Chilmark, lots are reserved for town residents, taxpayers and native-born veterans, although the cemetery commission is also proposing, among other things, to allow leaseholders to share their lots with non-family members. Edgartown offers a similar provision.

Mr. Carroll pointed out that disagreements among leaseholders in Chilmark had spurred some of the policy changes that the commission approved in October. The new policies would absolve the superintendent and commissioners from needing to handle such disputes, although burials, landscaping and other activities may only happen once the disputes are resolved, according to the proposal.

Commission chairman John Flender was unavailable for comment this week, but in a letter to the selectmen in October, he said that a public hearing to address the proposed changes would be held in the near future.

Copyright 2015 Vineyard Gazette, Edgartown, Massachusetts. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 6, 2015

More from Vineyard Gazette