H-SANTA MARIA

Feb 27, 2013 8:34 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Cemeteries struggling to stay afloat

The tough economy is forcing households to cut back in many ways, including how they rest in peace.
According to the Cremation Association of North America, Americans chose cremation in 41 percent of deaths in 2012 compared to just 15 percent in 1985.
And that change has left many local cemeteries struggling with financing.

Public cemeteries use lot sales and local property taxes to fund the upkeep of their grounds.
But with the sharp drop in home values as well as lot sales, they're now buried in expenses.

It's a sacred place for prayer, and memories, for those who've left us too soon.

"It's very important for me to come back and connect with her," said Faye Mepuaacosta.

Faye Mepuaacosta, lost her mother in 2008, but her memory still lives on here in the Santa Maria Public Cemetery.

"When I have a lot to think about, sometimes I just come here to talk to her about it," said Mepuaacosta.

But she can't help notice among the flowers and tombstones, the signs of a tough economy.

"We've got a lot of work to do here," said cemetery trustee Cole Lucas.

Lucas says they're doing their best but hard times have left buildings and roads crumbling.

"It's deteriorating badly, it needs a new roof, and it needs new structure," said Lucas.

But coming up with money to do it is getting more and more difficult.

"The problem is, revenues are going down," said Lucas, "People because of the economy perhaps are going more and more to cremation."

A lot more in fact, lot sales have fallen by 40 percent while cremation has risen by that same amount.

"We're having a lot of meetings that we're discussing how we can do it, I don't know how to do it right now," said Lucas, "We haven't come to any conclusions, and hopefully we'll find one that's beneficial to both the employee and to the cemetery district."

It's not only the Santa Maria cemetery either, both private and public cemeteries throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties say everyone is experiencing the same revenue problems. In fact private cemeteries may be in even worse shape because they depend only on lot sales and do not get public tax funds.

We also looked into price differences between being buried or cremated and being cremated is about a third of the cost.
The average cost of a traditional burial is about $7500 compared to about $800 to $2000 for cremation.

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