Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.

Yesterday, August 13, 2019, the city council’s workshop was devoted exclusively to a potential sale of Glendale’s cemetery. I wanted to wait to write about the issue but waited until I had all of the information I required, including the staff presentation and my own research.

Let’s begin with some history. The Glendale Cemetery Association, comprised of 3 local churches, established the Glendale Memorial Park Cemetery in 1900. By 1962 the Association realized it was struggling financially and asked the City of Glendale to assume ownership of the cemetery. The city agreed and received all land owned by the Association to be used exclusively as a cemetery as well as $12,831.21 in cash and $40,005.00 in stock investments.

Within that agreement there was no restriction placed on the city preventing it from selling the cemetery or its assets. For the past 57 years the city has faithfully owned and managed the property. Sometimes it did it well, sometimes (during recessions), it did not.  For nearly 60 years the city has supported the operation and maintenance of the cemetery from the city’s General Fund (taxpayer funds) while putting the proceeds from burial plot sales into a Perpetual Card Fund. Staff researched old records and could establish that the city subsidizes the cemetery at an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 a year. It also provides indirect support (personnel and equipment) from the Landfill, Solid Waste and Transportation departments. The Perpetual Card Fund is now about $5.8 million dollars and the city can document that an estimated $3.2 million dollars has come directly out of the city’s General Fund to pay for annual operations and maintenance. If a sale occurs, the city would retain about $2 million as reimbursement to its General Fund to offset what had been spent over the years for operations and maintenance. The buyer would retain about $3 million that would stay in the Perpetual Care Fund.

If you wish to see the workshop discussion you can go to the city’s website or the city’s Facebook page. The city is now live streaming all city council workshops and voting meetings. In my remarks from yesterday I delivered the following thoughts. The city council is not part of a nefarious plot (this was a pun…note the word ‘plot’ in reference to our discussion of the cemetery. Only the city manager got it…oh well). City council’s (and mine) decision will be based on a great deal of research and deliberation. We have a fiduciary responsibility to be wise stewards of your taxpayer dollars and that responsibility is taken very seriously.

It appears there are 3 options:

  • The city can continue to operate the cemetery as is. It would continue to subsidize the operations and maintenance from the General Fund. The city would use capital only to make repairs that were absolutely necessary and would continue to only allow services Tuesday through Thursday. It would continue to do little to no marketing. There is no guarantee under this model as to what future city councils may decide to do.
  • The city can enhance the cemetery operations and maintenance and make further capital investments. There are some things cities are good at doing and some things cities are not so good at doing. Running a cemetery is one of those things cities are not so good doing. It can hire a professional to run the operation and it can invest taxpayer funds to build infrastructure for cremation niches (which the city does not provide at this time). I estimate the additional cost to implement this model at an estimated $150,000 to $200,000 a year in addition to capital for infrastructure improvements. Again, there are no guarantees as to what future councils may decide to do.
  • The city can sell to a professional within the industry with a proven track record of successful management. The proposed buyer and the industry are heavily regulated. It seems the state legislature takes death and burial very, very seriously.

One of the emails I received implied that the proposed buyer may not have the financial credentials necessary. So I did some research by going to Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 32, Chapter 20, Article 6 which contains all of the regulations with regard to cemeteries. I won’t cite all but I do want to highlight several regulations that should put Glendale residents’ concerns at ease.

  • 32-2194.19. Investigation of applicant before granting of certificate of authority where needed. “Upon receipt of an application for a certificate of authority to operate a cemetery, the commissioner shall cause an investigation to be made of the physical status, plans, specifications and financing of the proposed cemetery, the character of the applicant, including its officers, directors, shareholders or members, and any other qualifications required of the applicant under this article.”
  • 32-2194.24. Trust fund to be established before certificate of authority granted. “No certificate of authority shall issue to a corporation or limited liability company organized for the purpose of maintaining and operating a cemetery unless the articles of incorporation or organization certify to the establishment of an irrevocable trust for maintenance and operation in accordance with the provisions of this article…”
  • 27. Restrictive use of income from endowed-care fund; obligation. “There shall be designated a trustee for the endowed-care fund that is a financial institution authorized to do business in this state…The principal of the trust fund shall remain permanently intact, and only the income …shall be expended…the fund shall be used solely for the care of the plots or other burial spaces sold to third persons with a provision for perpetual or endowed care…The fund or its income shall never be used for the development, improvement or embellishment of unsold portions of the cemetery…”
  • 32-2194.30. Restriction on the use of endowed-care funds. “Endowed-care funds shall not be used for any purpose other than to provide for the care of burial spaces…”

State regulations require a thorough background check, including financial,  of the potential buyer and associates and also require the Perpetual Care Fund to remain intact and only the interest earned on the Fund may be used for specific, regulated purposes. There are so many state safe guards to prevent fiduciary abuse and that should ease concerns of anyone who is frightened about a proposed sale.

There are positives to a sale. A professional would keep the cemetery open seven days a week. The proposed buyer has promised to keep the name of the cemetery as is and would still recognize preferences to Glendale residents. There are only 1.000 burial plots left. At an average of 100 plots purchased per year this model only has a life span of another 10 years. The buyer has indicated that his model will emphasize cremation niches and has plans to develop the infrastructure for such.

How will I vote? I don’t know. I am leaning toward a sale but council has requested further information that will result in a second workshop on the issue. Once I believe that I have all the information I need, I will make my final decision.

© Joyce Clark, 2019         


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