MidCoast councillors await report into cemetery fees across the region

Gloucester cemetery is one of the most expensive places in the MidCoast Council region to bury a loved one.
Gloucester cemetery is one of the most expensive places in the MidCoast Council region to bury a loved one.

When looking through MidCoast Council's proposed fees and charges for the 2019/20 financial year, it was clear that Gloucester cemeteries are the most expensive places in the region to bury a loved one.

Not only that, but it was due for a 50 per cent price hike for a headstone, kerbing or a slab over a grave. When council was asked the reasoning behind the price increase, the answer was "harmonisation", a term has been used by council since the 2016 forced merger of the former Gloucester, Great Lakes and Greater Taree councils as a way of explaining changes to fees and procedures.

Community members were encouraged to make submission about the proposed fees and charges prior to council voting on its adoption at the June 26 ordinary meeting held at the Forster council chambers.

In the meeting's agenda, it indicated there was only one submission during the exhibition period about fees and charges and that related to beach permits. However, there was a supplementary document in relation to item 21 (operational plan 2019/20), which included three submissions from Gloucester residents about the cemetery fees.

I am eager for the report to understand the true costs for the whole region.

Katheryn Smith

Colleen Atkins raised concern about Gloucester having the "dearest cemetery prices in the council area".

"I ask that the council please consider the people of Gloucester for once, and at least bring our cemetery costs into line with the rest of the council area," Ms Atkins wrote.

Tami wrote that she thought the fees were "quite adequate and should not be increased at this time".

Barbara Berry referred to the price hike in Gloucester as "obscene".

Council's response in the report stated that "the fees are consistent with the level of service provided in the area".

As the proposed fee increase included Stratford cemetery, this comment may have upset residents, like Wendy Yates, who has raised concerns about the lack of maintenance at the Stratford cemetery.

Katheryn Smith was the only former Gloucester Shire councillor to be elected onto the inaugural MidCoast Council.

Katheryn Smith was the only former Gloucester Shire councillor to be elected onto the inaugural MidCoast Council.

Regardless of public opinion, the fees and charges were approved by council, without objection, along with the request to have a report on the cemetery fees brought to council's November meeting.

Deputy mayor, Katheryn Smith was one of the councillors behind ensuring the report was given a due date as the rising cost of Gloucester's cemetery fees has been a concern of hers for some time.

She first brought the matter up when she was appointed to the Local Representation Committee (LRC) in 2016 while council was being run under administration prior to the election of councillors. During that time, she was able to keep the fees from increasing, but was unable to get an investigation into the charges across the line.

"The cemetery fees have different components to each area," Cr Smith said. "I am eager for the report to understand the true costs for the whole region."

According to council's manager of community spaces recreation and trades, Dan Aldridge, the report is to help understand the issue of harmonising cemetery fees across the region.

Council staff will prepare a report providing information on the fees and charges currently charged for cemeteries across the Mid Coast region and the intended price path for cemetery fees going forward.

"Cemetery fees for the former three areas were different and council has been moving towards a process of harmonising these fees," Mr Aldridge said.

Council explained that the fees for graves in Gloucester are dearer in the 2019-20 budget than in the Manning and Great Lakes regions because Gloucester fees were higher at the time of merger.

"Council will be proposing a uniform fee for cemetery charges across the area in the 2020-21 financial year, and this will require changes to the fees in the Great Lakes and Manning to deliver a single cost across the local government area."