City seeks blueprint for cemeteries’ future

The City of Winnipeg is seeking a new business plan for its three cemeteries, which will explore if new green and pet burial options can help raise revenue to maintain the sites.

The city expects to spend up to $150,000 for a consultant to create the plan for the Brookside, St. Vital and Transcona cemeteries.

A request for proposal notes there are more than 100 fees and charges for cemetery services and a bylaw requires each cemetery to maintain a perpetual maintenance reserve fund. While a portion of plot, cremation and other fees adds revenue to those reserves each year, the RFP says the fund “for each of the City of Winnipeg cemeteries is not currently sufficient to meet maintenance needs.”

City budget documents show Brookside’s maintenance reserve is expected to reach $18 million this year, St. Vital’s should grow to $1.3 million, and Transcona’s should hit about $900,000.

Coun. Brian Mayes, property and development committee chairman, said he’s not sure what exact reserve level is needed.

“That’s why we need the study… these cemeteries (are) kind of forgotten when we debate budgets or debate priorities for the city,” said Mayes.

Free Press request for an interview with Winnipeg cemeteries administrator Brett Shenback wasn’t granted. In an emailed statement, Shenback didn’t offer an exact estimate of how much additional cash the city feels is needed to maintain cemeteries.

The statement did note the cemetery bylaw allows up to 50 per cent of each reserve’s yearly earnings to be spent on improvements or maintenance. The consultant will be asked to assess the bylaw.

“The earnings from these funds are dependent on a wide range of factors in any given year, including recent contributions made to the fund, interest earned during the year, etc.,” writes Shenback. “The work associated with this RFP will involve an actuarial analysis to determine if the (reserve funds) for Brookside, Transcona and St. Vital cemeteries are adequate to meet future maintenance/upkeep needs in perpetuity.”

The consultant is also expected to explore “marketing activities to drive sales,” including green burials and the establishment of a pet cemetery, the RFP notes.

The three cemeteries currently do not offer pet burials. Green burials are defined as those that ensure bodies can return to the earth quickly, while being as gentle as possible to the environment.

Winnipeg does allow some green burial practices, including the use of biodegradable caskets. It also does not require embalming or individual grave markers, which are prohibited in environmentally friendly burials.

The most stringent forms of green burial also protect burial lands, sometimes through a long-term “conservation easement,” which the city doesn’t currently offer.

Mayes said those changes should “absolutely” be explored. “I think we should look at the green option… I think it’s timely.”

The report says there is room at the 200-acre Brookside Cemetery, 30-acre St. Vital Cemetery and 37-acre Transcona Cemetery to accommodate new burial options.

The city expects to award the contract by June 8.