Town Meeting To Decide On Pet Burial Ground Crematory

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Infrastructure

Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley displays the gazebo put in place at the new pet burial grounds along Queen Anne Road. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — The proposed creation of a crematory at the new pet burial grounds on Queen Anne Road has the support of the selectmen and finance committee heading into town meeting, but one resident said he didn't think it made any sense.

If he was an investor on the television program “Shark Tank,” resident Richard Gundersen told selectmen Monday night, he'd say, “I'm out, it doesn't make it.”

Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley and the town's Finance Director Carol Coppola were before selectmen making a presentation on the annual town meeting article seeking $557,950 to build a crematory and fund the necessary equipment.

In the 2016 annual town meeting voters approved the transfer of 2.25 acres of land along Queen Anne Road from selectmen to the cemetery commission for the creation of a pet burial ground. At that time there was discussion about adding a crematory in the future.

The cemetery commission and Kelley are ready to move forward with that proposal. The goal is to provide a service that will “honor your pet with dignity and respect and bring comfort and understanding to you and your family in a difficult time,” she told selectmen. Animals have become more than just outside pets and have joined the family inner circle, she said, adding the town is seeking to set the standard for municipal pet services.

Harwich received the Kenneth E. Pickard Municipal Innovation Award at the annual Massachusetts Municipal Association convention this year for innovation and increasing the effectiveness of local government. The award was based on the town's Pet Burial Ground and Walking Park project.

The crematory would include a viewing and reception room, entryway and meeting area, cemetery office, bathrooms and utility room. The building will be handicap accessible. The structure would be 1,496 square feet and have a 4,312-square-foot parking lot. It would be located on the 2.25-acre burial ground site.

Kelley cited the success of two pet crematories in Southeastern Massachusetts, including the Angel View Cemetery and Crematory in Middleboro, stating that it made a $10 million profit in the last fiscal year. She also referred to the Pleasant Mount Pet Rest in Plymouth, a smaller operation that showed a $200,000 profit.

Kelley said she has heard concerns the area will smell like “Burger King.” She said she was told by the operators of the Plymouth crematory there were no complaints in nine years of operation.

There are no public health issues, Kelley said, adding permits will be required from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. There will be no visible emissions, she added.

“Burger King emits everything into the atmosphere and [the crematory] goes through several combustible emissions before it is released,” Kelley said.

“Burger King does it purposely so you can smell it when you drive by,” Selectman Larry Ballantine added.

Coppola said officials were conservative by estimating there would be seven cremations a week. The project would need be funded through a 20-year bond, she said. At $125 per cremation, the facility would cover its costs in four years, although debt could add a number of additional years, Coppola said.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said because of the borrowing, approval in town meeting will require a two-thirds majority vote and then a majority approval for the debt exclusion on the annual election ballot. In the first four years 90 to 95 percent of the costs would be covered by cremation funds, he said.

Selectmen wanted to know about the need for staffing. Kelley said she would be doing the cremations, which take about 10 minutes. Clark said department of public works staff who work on cemetery burial projects have agreed to take the cremation training as well.

Selectman Donald Howell had questions about retaining ashes. Kelley said there is an automated system where the machine sweeps ashes into a box or urn. Howell asked if there was any possibility of co-mingling of ashes.

“Absolutely not,” Kelley replied.

Gundersen said he was “very much against this project.” He said he has looked at it as a business plan as well as a financial plan. His analysis was based on a 10-year bond issue and showed little financial benefit to the town. He wanted to know what is driving the need.

“Are dogs being left in the street, cats in the gutter?” he inquired. “Are the number of animals driving the need more than services can handle?”

He said there is a crematory in Chatham that has developed a strong relationship with local veterinarians. Angel View Cemetery and Crematory also fills as the need. He said he has talked to local veterinarians who did not know the town was planning to provide the service, adding the town needs to build recognition. He also questioned the number of cremations and costs given for the project.

“The town shouldn't be spending taxpayer money to compete with private enterprise,” Gundersen said. “It's not an appropriate use of public funds.”

That decision will be left to voters in the annual town meeting and the ballot box.