The new ordinance and rates are effective Feb. 15. at G.A.R. Cemetery currently within Miami's city limits.

MIAMI – A new city cemetery ordinance, rules and regulations, and increased rates have been approved by Miami's City Council. The changes council approved raises the price of many city burial services.

The G.A.R. Cemetery staff and City Attorney Ben Loring had been working on the new regulations for over a year before bringing the proposals to the council at their first meeting in January.

Loring told the council in a review of the ordinance, issues such as regulation of private burials and the location of pet cemeteries in city limits had not previously been addressed, and are now included in the newly adopted laws.

“When we were drafting this we looked at other issues that maybe have not come up here, but have in other places,” Loring said.

The new ordinance and rates are effective Feb. 15. at G.A.R. Cemetery currently within Miami’s city limits.

“We had a small rate and rules change in December of 2014, but we have not had any kind of an increase since October of 2004,” G.A.R. Cemetery Director Kim Horn said. “We surveyed and got 23 responses from cemeteries all over within a 200-mile radius from us, and that is where we came up with our market average. We believe the rate increases are going to generate somewhere between 25 to 30 percent in increased revenue yearly.”

Ordinance change

The new ordinance was approved pulling cemeteries or specifically G.A.R. Cemetery out from under the direction of the City of Miami’s Parks and Recreation Department Board and creating a separate stand-alone Cemetery Chapter in the City of Miami Ordinance.

The change came after Parks and Recreation merged with the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau in an effort to focus more on tourism opportunities.

“The cemetery didn’t really fit into kind of the new purpose of that,” Horn said.

As part of planning for the re-departmentalization, the staff and Loring took a look at rates, rules, and regulations and came up with the proposed changes.

The newly passed ordinance gives the City of Miami the ability to create one or more pet cemeteries within city limits, separate from human cemeteries, and places City control by ordinance for any third party pet cemeteries created.

The new law forbids the burial of any un-cremated human remains within city limits at any location, except in a cemetery and operated by the City, or at a cemetery operated by a charitable institution, or a religious, fraternal, rural community, township, state, county, for-profit or nonprofit corporate cemeteries and free community burial grounds. Any such cemetery is subject to and regulated by Chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 or 8 of Title 8 of the Oklahoma Statutes.

The ordinance does not apply to a private family cemetery on a tract of land at least five acres in size as long as such cemetery is at least 300 feet from any border of the tract. Such a private family cemetery must in all other regards comply with all other requirements of applicable law and regulation.

Planting vegetation is prohibited except by the direction of the cemetery director, and this now includes; trees, shrubbery, vines, flowers, plants or sowing of seeds.

Monuments, stone markers, or mausoleums or any other structure may not be erected that are in violation of the rules or regulations promulgated by the mayor and city council.

At the first council meeting in January, Miami Mayor Rudy Schultz called for more discussion with the Parks and Recreation Board before the issue was voted on at a later council meeting. The board did give its approval for the change.

The new city laws were approved in accordance placing all cemeteries owned by the City of Miami under the direct supervision and control of the mayor and city council. The new ordinance also calls for a cemetery director designated by the city manager to manage and maintain the city's cemeteries.

Increases

The cemetery rate changes were increased in part due to a trending drop across the nation in regular burials and an increase in cremains burial.

“In 2008, 86 percent of the burials we did were regular burials, 14 percent were cremains, either urns or ashes. This year to date 69 percent are regular burials and 31 percent are urns and ashes, and that number just keeps going up and up.” Horn said. “What that means for us is, we’re having less opening and closings, we’re selling less plots for regular burials.”

Horn said to help offset these decreases a new infant section, ‘The Garden of Angels,’ was created to open more available urn plots and burial options for families and to generate additional revenue.

“Right now we projected we would bring in $74,500 this year and we’re right at 50 percent, $33,410 is what we’ve taken in, and of course $3,800, when you add that to it that’s the 25 percent of any plots, anything we sell at our mausoleum that goes into our perpetual care fund,” Horn said.

The G.A.R. Cemetery is a not-for-profit municipal cemetery and has opted to keep a higher percentage than the 12.5 percent required by state law in the Perpetual Care Fund. Horn explained the Perpetual Care Fund helps ensure the cemetery grounds and roads are well cared for in coming years, and the funds can be used for improvements such as paving roads, a new gazebo, added sections, and water systems.

Currently, the fund balance of the perpetual care fund is $153,420.

The new rates and fees increases were issued after conducting a benchmarking study of 23 cemeteries for comparison.

“Before these recommended changes we were rock bottom on almost everything, we were really, really low,” Horn told the council. “We probably could have come to you for a higher increase but we feel like we’re a not-for-profit cemetery. We want to be able to serve our families and you know we’re not the wealthiest county in Oklahoma, but we still need to be able to cover our, some costs.”

According to Horn, the yearly budget for the Cemetery Department is $298,000, and 85 percent of that amount goes to personnel, 12 percent to materials, and 3 percent to other services and charges.

“We just feel like anything that we generate in revenue that is fair market rate is money the cemetery is not taking from the General Fund,” Horn said. “This is going to bring us a little closer from the minimum to the mid-point for most cemeteries.”

New Burial Rates

To open/close a plot now costs $450 compared to $300 previously for adult burial, still below the $551 average of 23 area cemeteries rates included in the rate study. An infant plot open/close will stay the same at $100 and half the average rate of $212. Urn burial will now cost $150 an increase from the $75 previously charged. The average cost found for urn burial in the study is $263.

Overtime for work done on Monday through Friday after 4:30 p.m. will now be charged at $150 per hour up from $100 per hour, on Saturday a flat rate of $400 up from $250, and overtime on Saturday after 12 of $150 per hour up from $100 per hour.

Marker setting is free for Veteran's markers and is now $100 for a single marker, $200 for a double marker, and $50 for an infant's marker. Previously those costs were $60 for a single marker, $120 for a double marker and $30 for an infant's marker.

Plots for cremains went from $150 to $250, infant plots remained the same at $100, single graves from $250 to $400, companion graves from $550 to $850, a monument – half (4) lot from $1,200 to $1,600, and a monument – full lot (8) from $2,400 to $3,200. This pricing is well below the study rates of $408 for a cremains plot, $192 for an infant's plot, $456 for a single grave, $962 for companion graves.

Mausoleum costs for a single crypt went from $2,500 to $3,000, and companion crypts went from $5,500 to $5,800.

Columbarium costs for a single niche went from $850 to $950 and companion niches from $1,600 to $1,800.

Disinterment costs will now be a charge of $1,500 to relocate within and $1,000 to relocate away.

Other increases were approved for vases from $20 to $30 and certificate reissues from $10 to $25.

These revised cemetery rules and regulations reflecting the new ordinance, new laws, and increases were updated and adopted by the council unanimously at the last regular council meeting on Jan. 16.

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.