City looks for ways to expand cemeteryMar 04, 2021 02:50PM ● By Linda Peterson
CENTERVILLE—A walk through the city cemetery today would show plenty of available gravesites. More than half, 2,656 to be exact, are unoccupied. But looks can be deceiving: every last site of the almost-7 acres has actually been sold and the cemetery, which has been around since pioneer times, is full. It’s a problem that city officials have been wrestling with for several years.
Such measures as enacting a now-repealed ordinance prohibiting upright headstones to ensure crews access to find empty sites and the approval of a new niche columbarium wall (see story pg. X) are partial solutions at best.
“I’ve always felt all along that we don’t chase more spaces (at the current cemetery), that we see if we can’t find additional cemetery elsewhere,” Mayor Clark Wilkinson said at a recent city council work session where options were discussed.
“If we can’t, then we’re done,” Wilkinson said.
All present agreed the best solution would be to develop a new cemetery but it’s a costly proposal and each option has issues.
One possibility would be to construct a cemetery on the east bench on land already owned by the city in what is known as the bowl area. However, the bowl is used heavily by the recreation community and a cemetery there could face opposition. Some council members are also worried that if the city built anything there it would pave the way for other development – something they do not want to see happen. Currently the city does not allow construction on the hillside to protect the wildland urban interface. Another city-owned property north of Bountiful’s Cheese Park might be a possibility but has not been fully explored. Access to this property could be challenging, City Manager Brant Hanson later told the City Journals.
The city could also purchase property for a new cemetery but suitable parcels are few and far between and the owners might not want to sell. At least two city council members expressed strong opposition to using eminent domain (commonly known as condemnation) to acquire any such property.
Another consideration is the price tag. City Engineer Kevin Campbell gave the city council a ballpark estimate of $5 million to develop the east-bench city property. If it could be found, the purchase of an alternative property could be costly. Hanson told the council land is currently going for $317,000 an acre in Centerville and development costs would also need to be factored in. To cover a $5 million bond, property taxes would need to be increased by at least 25 percent, he said. Councilmember Robyn Mecham said much of the cost could be recouped through sales of grave sites but Cemetery Director Bruce Cox cautioned that it is unlikely the cemetery will sell out quickly. Councilmember Tamilyn Fillmore observed that grave sites could be sold at prices much higher than what the city currently charges.
“I don’t think it’s in our best interests to have it so priced out that not every Centerville resident could be buried in the Centerville cemetery,” Hanson said. “Having it priced so high might eliminate a portion of the residents from purchasing a cemetery space.”
Whatever solution city officials come up with, they’re going to have to take the proposal to the people of Centerville and are looking to place a bond initiative on the November ballot to see if residents are willing to fund a new cemetery.
With no easy solutions, city officials will continue to explore their options. In the meantime, Centerville residents who hope to have their last resting place in the community where they live will not be able to do so unless they are willing to be cremated and purchase a spot in the new niche wall.
Hanson later told the City Journals that the city is anxious to find anyone who owns sites in the cemetery that they do not intend to use. The city would be happy to purchase those sites back at today’s prices, he said.