SAN BENITO — For months, burial plots were selling out at Memorial Park cemetery, where a tall black memorial stands over hometown hero Freddy Fender’s grave.
At Thomae-Garza Funeral Home, the scarcity of plots was leading Director Albert Vega to help local families find out-of-town burial sites.
Meanwhile, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said he was proposing boosting plot prices to try to slow down sales to out-of-towners who had been buying up burial sites at the public cemetery boasting some of the area’s lowest costs.
Now, hundreds of new plots are on the market.
At City Hall, officials have opened up a new section of the cemetery, a move that puts about 576 plots up for sale.
“It’s helped a lot as far as the families we serve,” Vega said.
After more than 10 years, the city’s launch of the cemetery’s second phase is helping more local families bury their loved ones in their hometown.
“We’re fine with the cemetery as far as the expansion,” Zeke Padilla, funeral director at San Benito Funeral Home, said.
In 2009, the city opened Memorial Park, featuring a granite monument looming over Fender’s grave site.
As part of the project, officials used $250,000 in economic development money to develop the cemetery, planning to draw tourists to the Grammy Award-winning singer’s grave.
Across 17 acres, officials planned Memorial Park’s first phase to include about 250 plots.
Now, the cemetery’s first plots are sold out, Padilla said.
“The original section had already filled up,” he said.
Concerns over price hike
Meanwhile, City Commissioner Tony Gonzales continues to call for a workshop to discuss De La Rosa’s proposed price increases.
In November, he requested De La Rosa set up a workshop to discuss a proposal to boost plot prices about $150.
“I don’t feel good about raising the prices,” Gonzales said. “Some people can’t afford it. I don’t want to make money out of the plots.”
Now, De La Rosa says he plans to discuss the proposal “in the near future.”
“I anticipate discussion with the City Commission on cemetery plot sales at San Benito Memorial Park Cemetery in the near future,” he stated. “I can’t speculate on what they may wish to do.”
Now, the city is charging $950 for an adult’s plot and $375 for a child’s plot.
During a November meeting, De La Rosa told commissioners out-of-towners were buying up many of the cemetery’s plots because prices are lower than those at most area cemeteries.
De La Rosa said he couldn’t stop out-of-towners from buying plots because Memorial Park is a public cemetery.
Meanwhile, he said, grave diggers have hiked their charges about $100.
Prices are so low the city’s “subsidizing” burials, he said.
De La Rosa proposed boasting plot prices to make them “more competitive” with those at other cemeteries, where costs climb to about $3,500.
Amid debate, commissioners discussed setting prices to allow low-income residents to afford to buy plots.
Under an ordinance, the city prohibits the plots’ resale.
“Plots shall be sold for use by the purchaser and certain family members only and shall not be purchased for resale,” the ordinance states. “Only family members related to the purchaser within the second degree of affinity or within the third degree by consanguinity may be buried in a plot.”
“Any sale of a plot by a purchaser or his or her heirs shall be only to the city of San Benito and shall be only for the total amount paid by the purchaser at the time of his or her purchase from the city of San Benito.”
Memorial Park’s plot prices help fund the cemetery’s continual care.
“The city of San Benito shall provide for the continuing care, maintenance, operation and improvements to the (cemetery),” the ordinance states. “In general this shall include road maintenance, mowing, pruning, landscaping or removal of plant material, policing the grounds, pest control, leveling of monuments and such other maintenance as may be necessary to keep the (cemetery) presentable at all times.”