City cemeteries may become a thing of the past |

City cemeteries may become a thing of the past

Glenwood Springs Parks and Cemetery employee Gray Tenpenny lays out dirt after a recent funeral at the Rosebud Cemetery in south Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Glenwood Springs may be inclined to get out of the cemetery business once the city-owned and -operated Rosebud Cemetery fills up, and leave the job of providing a final resting place for the deceased to the private sector.

Recently, the Glenwood Parks and Recreation Commission recommended that the city not go to the expense of trying to secure what would need to be about 4 additional acres somewhere in town or nearby for a new cemetery.

With Rosebud, located on the south edge of town along South Grand Avenue, at about 98 percent capacity, and the historic Linwood Cemetery on the eastern hillside long since full, it’s only a matter of time before the city runs out of cemetery space, Parks and Recreation Director Brian Smith advised City Council during a work session discussion last week.

Once that happens, it may be prudent for Glenwood to join other cities around the country that have turned the business of selling family grave sites and burying the dead over to private funeral home operators, he said.

“This sounds like a great project for the private sector. It’s not something city government should be involved in.”— City Councilor Steve Davis

Currently, there are still 161 unsold sites at Rosebud, which was first established as a graveyard in 1899 and became a city-owned property in 1929.

Of those, 118 sites are set aside for veteran casket grave sites, 21 are available to the general public as casket sites, and 22 are in-ground sites for cremated ashes. The cemetery also has 60 unsold columbarium cremation niches, Smith reported.

“Typically, we sell about four to 10 sites per year and do about 30 interments,” he said, adding that the aging baby boomer population is likely to increase that demand.

Rosebud has 6,357 sold and occupied grave sites, and 1,185 sold but unused sites. It’s possible some of those may belong to individuals or families who don’t even know they own a grave site, Smith said.

City Council has revisited the issue of adding more cemetery space in recent decades, and sometime in the 1990s decided to purchase an 80-space, above-ground columbarium.

“In the late 2000s, City Council member Larry Emery led an inquiry for the future needs of the community and Rosebud Cemetery,” Smith said in a written report. “Some locations were assessed in partnership with surrounding communities, but nothing was found suitable for a new municipally owned and maintained cemetery.”

As it stands, the $250 cost for Glenwood residents to purchase a grave site, and $531.25 for nonresidents, is somewhat lower than the market rate of $500 and $775, respectively, Smith said.

Maintaining the cemetery also comes at a cost to the city, including $29,000 annually for irrigation, $62,000 for staffing and $4,200 for equipment maintenance. Council at one point also eliminated the distinction between sites that could have upright headstones and those more appropriate for flat stones, leaving it up to the family to decide.

“This makes maintenance very difficult and costly,” Smith said.

Those costs would continue in perpetuity even after Rosebud fills up, unless the city were successful in turning the operation over to a private entity as part of a package deal for a new cemetery site.

“This sounds like a great project for the private sector,” City Councilor Steve Davis said in support of the recommendation from Parks and Rec. “It’s not something city government should be involved in.”

Before making that decision, the city would like to work with potential operators to identify possible sites for what could someday be a combined funeral home and private cemetery. Some privately owned sites have been informally discussed that could work for a cemetery, but to date no formal discussions have occurred.

“We should try to facilitate that discussion with a private operator,” Mayor Mike Gamba said.

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