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Taxed after death: City Council to vote on fee hikes at cemeteries, golf courses

July 7, 2014 Updated: July 8, 2014 at 8:52 am
Caption +
Robert Ruiz, right, sets up his wife's grave in Evergreen Cemetery Monday July 7, 2014, with the help of his grandsons, Jeremiah Maldonado, 12, left and his brother, Piero Maldonado, 15. The grave was disturbed when another person was buriedin an adjacent grave. City council is discussing raising plot fees in the city-owned cemetery. Carol Lawrence/The Gazette

Predicting that many families will want to move their veteran loved ones out of the city's cemeteries and into a national veterans cemetery planned near Colorado Springs, the city is proposing a 200 percent increase to dig up the caskets.

The proposed increase in the disinterment fee - from $1,000 to $3,000 - is part of a series of expected fee increases at the city's two cemeteries and its two golf courses. Both sets of fee hikes were presented at the City Council work session Monday and are expected to be voted on in two weeks.

The last time cemetery fees were increased was 2010, said Will DeBoer, cemetery operations administrator. Under the proposal, a basic space would go from $800 to $900, a 12.5 percent increase. A cremation estate would go from $1,200 to $1,500, a 25 percent increase. The biggest proposed increase by far is for disinterment, but DeBoer - after some council members aired concerns about the fee - said he would consider reworking the numbers.

"To tell you quite honestly, we are due," DeBoer told the council.

The increases are needed to keep up with costs, he said, including watering, mowing and staffing. More families are opting for cremation, and the cemeteries are having a harder time bringing in revenue, he said.

"It's a challenge every year," he said.

Now the city faces new competition with a planned 374-acre national cemetery at South Powers Boulevard and Bradley Road to serve the region's 95,000 veterans. That cemetery is expected to open in 2015 with full completion by 2017. Already some families have asked about moving their loved ones, DeBoer said.

"It creates a lot of work for the cemetery and it creates a hole and I feel we should be compensated for that," he said.

The cemetery is an enterprise fund, meaning it is self-sufficient and does not take money from the city's general operating fund. In 2014, it had a $1.3 million budget and five staffers. The city's Evergreen Cemetery opened in 1871 and was deeded to the city in 1875. Fairview Cemetery was opened in 1895 and annexed into the city in 1917.

DeBoer said his market research showed that the increases on most of the fees - such as spaces, casket burials and cremations - were in line with private cemetery fees. But he added that the he hoped the proposed 200 percent increase for disinterment might deter families from moving a casket.

Some council members felt the proposed increase in disinterment unfairly targets veterans. Six of the nine council members are military veterans. "I respect that it is a huge amount of work, but it (the increase) seems pretty large," said council member Joel Miller. "There are veterans that, we would be socking it to them in a way."

DeBoer said he would rework the numbers and bring back a less expensive proposal on disinterment. Council member Jill Gaebler said the city should at least break even.

Golfers also face slight fee increases in 2015 if the council approves a set of proposed changes. It would cost $29 instead of $28 to play 18 holes at Patty Jewett and Valley Hi golf courses.

Golf fees have not increased since 2009, said Dal Lockwood, the city's golf manager. The city held the line when the economy tanked and fewer people were playing golf, he said, but now it's time to raise greens fees.

There is no proposed increase for annual permits, which would remain at $275 for adults and $150 for players 60 and older.

"I have a lot of heartburn with raising fees," said council member Don Knight.

Knight said the city needs to work on attracting more players. Increasing fees won't attract more players, he said, even if it's just $1.

Gaebler said the price is right. She supports the fee increase and said she would not expect the $1 increase to keep golfers away.

The City Council is expected to vote on both sets of fee increases at its meeting July 22.

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