It’s been around longer than the town of Smiths Falls, and it’s still one of the most cost-effective operations in town.
Hillcrest Cemetery was founded in 1832 as the private burial ground of the Simpson Family. It was purchased by the local municipality in 1869 (Smiths Falls was not incorporated as a town until 1887), to establish a publicly owned non-denominational cemetery for the community.
At a March 5 meeting of town council’s Committee of the Whole, Director of Community Services Art Manhire reported on the results of a service sustainability review of the cemetery, part of an ongoing effort to review all aspects of the town’s operations with the aim of improving efficiency.
The town no long has a staff person dedicated solely to running the cemetery, so staffing costs in 2017 amounted to just $11,142.50. The net cost of providing the service was just over $17,000.
Manhire reported that the cemetery covers 37.8 acres, with about 35 per cent of available space – 13.4 acres – accounted for to date. A total of 13,128 individuals have been buried at the cemetery and there are an estimated 12,000 markers.
In addition to offering interment of urns and caskets, the cemetery has recently acquired a columbarium, a structure divided into compartments for the interment of urns. Manhire said the columbarium has been a popular addition, with eight units sold so far in 2018 alone.
In 2017 there were 73 interments at Hillcrest: 41 cremations, 33 caskets and two columbarium units.
Sixty-one per cent of the interments in 2017 involved individuals from outside the community. Manhire said that although non-residents pay a surcharge, costs at Hillcrest remain substantially lower than in larger centres like Ottawa and Kingston.
One aspect of operations that is of concern to staff involves regulations set out by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario. According to provincial legislation, funds must be set aside in a reserve in case the organization operating a cemetery can no longer continue to do so. This reserve is referred to as a Perpetual Care Fund, and provincial legislation currently requires the town to set aside 40 per cent of the proceeds of plot sales for this purpose. The funds in this account now amount to just over $500,000, and only the interest can be spent. Since the town is already operating the cemetery, said Manhire, “It’s a lot of cash that’s sitting there for nothing.”
In his report Manhire suggested the council lobby the province for changes to the legislation.