City Commissioners weigh expanding Southside Cemetery and buying back unused burial plots

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By: Monica Casey | WCTV Eyewitness News
May 11, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The Tallahassee City Commission will look at new opportunities for cemetery space at its Wednesday meeting.

The City owns five cemeteries; all plots in four of them have been purchased, and only 50 spaces remain in the Southside Cemetery.

Options on the agenda include the purchase of new land to expand the Southside Cemetery and the buy-back of unused plots in all five cemeteries.

There are 43,000 total grave spaces in the City cemeteries, but 9,460 of them remain occupied.

"Sometimes these get passed down from generation to generation. And so what staff believes is a good option is to reach out to those owners and see if they'd like to sell them back into the inventory," said City Manager Reese Goad.

City Commissioners will also weigh expanding the Southside Cemetery with three more acres of land.

"The National Weather Service actually leases land near the airport that we think we might be able to kind of renegotiate," said Goad.

Three acres could accommodate up to 3,000 burial plots.

The land purchase and preparation of the space for burials is projected to cost $400,000. The funding would come from the Perpetual Care Trust Fund.

City staff evaluated the amount of need for cemetery space; an increase in the popularity of cremation means less space is needed.

The National Funeral Directors Association says by the year 2040, the percentage of cremation burials will be up to 78.7%, while traditional burials will only account for 15.7%.

"The biggest change that the funeral industry has seen overall is the rate of cremation," said Rocky Bevis, the President of Bevis Funeral Homes.

Bevis says cremation has become a big part of the business, about 60-65%.

"When I was a kid we'd put the deceased on a train and send them to Jacksonville to be cremated, we would have one or two a year," said Bevis.

Based on current projections, over the next 20 years in Leon County, about 25% of people would choose a traditional burial. About 68.9% are projected to choose cremation, and only 24% of those who are cremated would choose to be buried in a cemetery.

Cremation can offer convenience, a lower cost, and be more environmentally friendly.

"The requirement for space is not nearly as much," said Bevis.

Commissioners will vote on the options at their virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 13. Staff is recommending commissioners vote in favor of both options.