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Buckley cemetery takes big budget cut, but operations will continue

As Buckley's city council finalizes and approves the municipal budget for 2011, one of the departments taking a deep cut is the cemetery.

The cemetery faces a 51.8 percent overall cut to its expenditures for the coming year. Cuts are across the board with only a handful of line items, like public utility expenses and a $200 overtime fund, remaining untouched.

The cuts come following a budget year in which cemetery revenues are projected to finish at less than a third of beginning-of-the-year projections. The city budget for 2010 anticipated $15,000 in revenue from the sale of lots and projected revenue for the end of 2010 is $4,558.

"Unfortunately, (the drop in revenue) isn't because people in Buckley aren't dying, as much as we wish that were the case," said Randy Reed, Buckley councilman and chairman of the council's finance committee.

The drop instead seems to be due to a combination of changes in the buying habits of persons putting their loved ones to rest.

Most prominent is an overall shift to cremation and inurnment or spreading of ashes, rather than burial in a casket. The cost of cremation service and an urn is less than $1,000, Reed said, making it the more economic choice when compared with the cost of a casket, burial plot and headstone.

However, inurnment is still good for cemetery revenues, especially if surviving loved ones choose to purchase a permanent resting place on the land for the urn.

Another factor in declining cemetery revenues is the place loved ones choose to bury deceased veterans. Veterans – of which Buckley has many, Reed said – are eligible for free military burial in national cemeteries, like Tahoma National Cemetery in Covington.

Despite the cuts, the city will continue to operate the cemetery without dramatic changes, Reed said.

"The big stuff will still be taken care of," he said. "We are still going to promote the cemetery as a business and full service center in terms of a place to sell lots."

There will, however, be a decrease in expansion and staffing for upkeep.

No new walls will be built for urns. Instead, customers will be able to purchase small, standalone tombs for containment of ashes at the cemetery.

The budget for cemetery manager Scott DeCarteret has also been cut by nearly half. However, DeCarteret will be dual-employed with the cemetery and parks departments, and will fulfill part-time duties for both.

The change will likely impact general upkeep of the cemetery, but the hope is that upkeep of the parks and cemetery will partially overlap, Reed said.

Neighboring Enumclaw handed over management of its own cemetery, Evergreen Memorial Park, to privately-owned Weeks' Funeral Homes. The city of Buckley has considered a similar arrangement at budget time every year, Reed said, but so far has not come to the conclusion that the cost benefit would be enough to justify the transfer.

"While it looks dramatic, I think this is going to be an opportunity," Reed said. "If we had to let Scott go, that would be much worse."

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