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Phoenix area face lack of cemetery space

By Amy B. Wang

The Arizona Republic

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2012 1:10 a.m. MDT

As Fifield navigates a golf cart through the narrow drives, he points out the most famous people interred at the cemetery: Ernesto Miranda, of Miranda Rights fame, and country-music singer Waylon Jennings. The cemetery may not have the Edgar Allan Poes or the Benjamin Franklins of the East Coast, but it has its own history.

Tempe's only cemetery, public or private, is city-owned Tempe Double Butte Cemetery, which was gifted in 1958 after the group that had been overseeing it struggled to finance its maintenance. When the city opened two sections in 2008, so many people responded that the city had to create a waiting list. At the time, city officials predicted the spaces would be filled in three years.

"It's the who's who of Tempe," said Cynthia Yanez , director of Double Butte Cemetery. "They've got grandparents, great-grandparents and other family members buried out there. ... If they grew up here, then they definitely want to enter their final resting place here, as well."

The recession has since tempered some of that demand. Yanez said the city is selling "singles" now, for people who cannot afford to buy multiple plots, and also creating payment plans.

Glendale took over its cemetery's operations in 1962 and treats it as a public service, selling burial rights -- at a 20 percent discount with ID -- to Glendale residents, with some exceptions.

Twenty to 30 years ago, owners of cemeteries might have worried more about running out of land than they do today, but that was before cremation rates rose dramatically, said Robert Fells, executive director of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. Now, the issue is not as pressing, although cemeteries continually try to plan further into the future than another business might, he said.

"What business worries about how are we going to be 50 years from now? Well, cemeteries do," Fells said. "When you're a cemetery and you're doing any sort of future forecasting, it's not unusual to look 20, 30, even 50 years ahead."

Still, it's impossible to predict burial trends and how cemeteries will adapt.

"A cemetery is the only business that services what it sells forever," Fells said. "There's not a five-year warranty and 'Oh! We're done. Your five years are up now.' It's an ongoing responsibility that never expires."

Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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