MISSOULA, Mont. - We hear a lot about the cost of living, but what about the cost of dying? A recent study found Missoula's public cemetery only makes enough money to cover 18-percent of its yearly operating costs, leaving Missoula tax payers holding the bag for nearly $400,000 annually.
The current fee for burying a casket is between $400 and $675, depending on the time of day and week. The actual, full cost is $3,558. Annually, taxpayers pay for more than $100,000 in casket burials alone.
"It's about an 85-percent subsidy with tax dollars," Missoula Finance Director Brentt Ramharter said. "So we're trying to reduce the level of public tax dollar subsidization for the cemetery."
To do that, city council is considering raising cemetery fees. "With the proposed increases we're trying to reduce our level of subsidy from about 85-percent to about 70-percent," Ramharter said. "So it would be a significant benefit to the taxpayers."
That would make Missoula's public cemetery similar to others in the state, like Bozeman's and Billing's. According to the study, they cover about 30-percent of their own operating costs and rely on tax dollars for the other 70-percent.
"We're way below market, so the intent is to get closer to what the market charges at the other cemeteries," Ramharter said.
So why not raise burial fees enough to break even? The city says then the public cemetery wouldn't be competitive with local private cemeteries, which supplement their revenue through crematorium and funeral home services.
"We will have a level of tax support as long as we are in the business of providing a public cemetery," Ramharter said.
Under the proposed changes, burial services would go up as much as $225. Extras would increase too -- like the price of a cement grave liner, which would go from $360 to $800. Graves for infants are free now, but they would cost $100.
If council approves the new fees, they'll go into effect July 1. The proposed changes and other budget issues will be up for public comment at Missoula City Council meetings, tentatively beginning May 7.