User pays, even in the grave

Kevin Moyle with one of the inexpensive home made coffins he was selling on the side of the road in 2013.
Kevin Moyle with one of the inexpensive home made coffins he was selling on the side of the road in 2013.

Death has become more expensive in Taranaki.

The cost of burial plots in the province has skyrocketed over the last five years, with the increase in costs ranging from a 26 per cent jump in South Taranaki, to a 163 per cent price hike in Stratford.

In 2009 a burial plot in the Stratford district was $760 - now it's $2000.

In the New Plymouth district a plot in any of the 10 cemeteries went up from $1870 in 2009, to $3200 in 2014.

The ever-increasing costs of burials were not so staggering in South Taranaki though, with the price increasing from just $850 to $1077 over the five years.

Despite the increase in the New Plymouth district only 63 per cent of cemetery costs were met by fees,New Plymouth District Council's manager of parks Mark Bruhn said.

The 10 cemeteries cost the council $1.016 million a year to maintain, but only about $642,000 of that was met by burial plot income and a yearly $7000 grant from Internal Affairs. Ratepayers foot the bill for the remaining $374,000.

New Plymouth's 71 per cent jump over the last five years was in part because of a 2010 review, which saw councillors pass on an increase of nearly 40 per cent for adult burial plots, he said.

That enabled cremation fees to remain competitive without impacting greatly on rates.

While the burial plot costs have risen, cremation fees have remained at $750 for an adult and $350 for a child.

John Sargeant, South Taranaki District Council's manager of properties and facilities, said managing a cemetery was a huge responsibility. The job came with its own tales, he said.

"Under the Burial and Cremation Act, a person who owns a plot can only sell it back to the local authority they bought it off, for the same price they paid," Sargeant said.

"We once had a gentleman who had bought a plot many years prior for ten pounds - we offered him $25 and he was happy with that."

The council recognised that buying a plot was an important decision, often with wider family involvement, he said.

"While council has to face the reality of charging the costs involved, we are also sensitive around the issue and the importance of keeping costs as low as possible," he said.

The South Taranaki council was two years through a five-year contract with Fulton Hogan, which provide the services of burial and lawn mowing.

Because of the contract there had been no cost increases related to the cemeteries activity for the last two years, Sargeant said.

There are 10 cemeteries in the South Taranaki District, and user charges pay for 37.5 per cent of the cost, with ratepayers picking up the remaining 62.5 per cent.

Taranaki Daily News