San Benito sets grave site prices

SAN BENITO — After a three-month delay, city commissioners have scrapped a proposal to boost cemetery plot prices.

Earlier this week, commissioners agreed to cut infants’ plot prices while keeping caps on adult plots as they develop Memorial Park cemetery’s second phase.

“That was a great blessing,” Albert Vega, director of the Thomae-Garza Funeral Home, said Wednesday, referring to commissioners’ decision to cut infant plot prices.

During Tuesday’s special meeting, Mayor Ben Gomez proposed cutting the price on infants’ plots.

“Our pricing on the infants — I think we should go lower a little on that,” Gomez told commissioners.

After discussions, commissioners slashed the cemetery’s infant plot prices from $375 to $195.

“That’s a blessing for the families compared to what it was before,” said Vega, whose funeral home handles 75 percent of the cemetery’s burials. “I was more concerned about the babies — to make sure it would be a very affordable price for them.”

Commissioners also set single urn plot prices at $195 while pricing double urn plots at $395.

While many corporate-owned cemeteries charge significantly higher plot prices, some area cemeteries offer prices comparable to those at Memorial Park.

“They’re competitive,” Zeke Padilla, funeral director at San Benito Funeral Home, said of the cemetery’s new plot prices. “They’re good prices.”

Passing on grave-digging costs

However, the city is passing grave diggers’ costs to residents.

Now, grave diggers are charging $500 to dig adult graves and $250 for children’s graves, Finance Director Belen Peña told commissioners.

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said grave-digging costs have jumped about $100.

“Right now, we’re taking about a $100 hit on every burial,” he said.

Options considered

During the meeting, De La Rosa told commissioners the city hadn’t revised the cemetery’s plot prices since 2011.

“There is a difference when you leave San Benito,” he said.

De La Rosa said some area cemeteries charge $1,495 for adult plots and $895 for single urn plots.

But commissioners didn’t want to boost prices for city residents.

Gomez questioned whether commissioners could charge out-of-town residents $1,495 for adult plots.

But De La Rosa suggested commissioners keep adult plot prices at $950.

“We set a price for everyone so we’re not being intrusive,” he said.

Meanwhile, commissioners had considered setting a separate set of prices to help poor families better afford to bury their loved ones.

But during Tuesday’s meeting, officials said they didn’t want to request families to give income information during mourning.

Commissioners also agreed to continue calling for graves to be lined with concrete — a requirement that adds to burial costs.

“We try to protect those remains,” De La Rosa said.

Urn plot prices high

On Wednesday, Commissioner Tony Gonzales said he wants lower prices on urn plots.

“I’m not quite satisfied,” he said. “My impression is they want to make money out of it.”

Gonzales said he didn’t discuss prices Tuesday because the city had held a special meeting — not the workshop he requested in November.

“It was supposed to be a workshop,” he said. “It was supposed to be discussed. But it was a special meeting so we could only discuss what was on the agenda. But we’re going to bring it back up later.”

Proposed price hike

During November’s meeting, De La Rosa proposed boosting plot prices to make them “more competitive” with those at some cemeteries.

Memorial Park, he said, was selling out of plots.

At the time, he said out-of-towners were buying up many of the cemetery’s plots because prices are lower than those at some area cemeteries.

Phase II

Last month, officials announced the opening of Memorial Park’s second phase.

“Phase one is complete,” De La Rosa told commissioners Tuesday. “Phase one is filled up.”

As they plan the cemetery’s second phase, officials have opened up a new section of the cemetery, making way for about 576 plots.

Meanwhile, the new Baby-Infant Lawn includes 312 plots.

Officials are also opening the Urn Lawn to include 504 plots measuring 24- by 18-inches and the Double Urn Lawn, with 25 plots sized at 24- by 30-inches.

How we got here

In 2009, the city opened Memorial Park, featuring a black granite monument looming over hometown hero Freddy 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.