The Cayman Islands government is being urged to get out of the burial business amid concerns over the cost of buying new land to ease overcrowding in Grand Cayman’s cemeteries.
Churchill’s Funeral Home in George Town has said it is interested in buying land to set up and operate a centrally-located national cemetery. But the project won’t go ahead if government follows up on previous proposals for new taxpayer-funded facilities.
Grand Cayman is facing a desperate shortage of burial plots with both Bodden Town and West Bay graveyards already full. Public demand for “traditional” beachside plots means authorities have been forced to consider buying up prime ocean-side real estate for new cemeteries, with the costs likely to run to several million dollars.
Now Churchill’s is calling on government to step aside and leave the private sector to deal with the issue.
Winston Churchill Solomon, owner of the firm, said there was no sense in government spending more public money for buying new sites.
He said his funeral home was looking at buying land for a central graveyard. But he insists it would not be “cost-effective” to proceed if he had to compete with new government subsidised cemeteries, paid for through the public purse.
“Beachside burial is something that is cultural, but we have to be realistic,” Mr. Churchill said.
“It is just not realistic for the government to have to purchase extremely expensive beachside properties when what is being charged for that product is not even going to cover the cost of the land.”
He said he believes his firm can provide an affordable private cemetery that would offer enough space for future generations of Caymanians to bury their dead.
“We need one central national cemetery,” he said. “There is a site I am looking at and if I can get an assurance from government that they will leave this issue to the private sector then I can proceed. Without that assurance, it wouldn’t be a very smart step for me to take.”
He wouldn’t say where the site is that he is looking at, but he did say that he was not looking for government to cede control of its existing cemeteries.
Mr. Churchill would also like government to make burial insurance mandatory to prevent families from being left with unexpected bills following the death of a loved one.
The issue of overcrowding in the cemeteries has been a hot topic in Grand Cayman for years.
A compulsory land purchase in West Bay was proposed by former Premier McKeeva Bush, but the deal has not happened as yet.
In Bodden Town, land was purchased for a new graveyard but was used for housing instead. Questions were submitted to the government’s Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries unit for an update, but they had not responded by press time.
Former Member of the Legislative Assembly Osbourne Bodden, who is running for office again in Bodden Town, said he believed authorities were still looking at potential sites to purchase new cemetery space.
He said the issue was a “pressing concern” in the town.
“The Bodden Town cemetery is full,” he said. “We have a situation here that needs to be looked at quite urgently. If government can’t do it then someone needs to look at a private cemetery.”
Arden McLean, who was the minister responsible for graveyards in the previous government, said his department had looked at possible changes to the law as well as new land purchases.
He said legal changes to allow coffins to be stacked at family plots or to allow a crematorium on the island could help ease the problem.
He added that many families were choosing to bury their loved ones on their own land.