Editorial: City must take care of Pilot Butte Cemetery

Published May 21, 2013 at 05:00AM

Bend’s Pilot Butte Cemetery is a link to the community’s past unlike any other. In it are buried some of the city’s earliest residents and some far more recent, as well. The city of Bend owns the cemetery, the city’s oldest, and it must spend money to keep it looking good.

That’s a strain for a government with limited resources, though the cost is not huge. By the end of the current biennium, the city expects to have spent about $56,000 maintaining the 40-acre cemetery, most of which remains undeveloped. That money comes from the general fund, and though it is a tiny fraction of the general-fund budget, officials would like to free those dollars to go to something else.

The problem is not new. Just a few years ago, in fact, officials considered selling the cemetery in the face of declining revenues brought on by the 2008 real estate crash. Wisely, it opted not to. Its only other option, however, is to raise the rates it charges people for burials, plot sales and cremation interments. The latter now make up about 70 percent of the cemetery’s business.

In fact, raising rates makes sense. The cemetery charges less for cremation interments than either of the other two cemeteries in the city. Greenwood Cemetery, which is contiguous to Pilot Butte Cemetery, charges almost $600 more, in fact. Deschutes Memorial Gardens, on the city’s north end, charges about $400 more.

Meanwhile, the city has a solid reason for continuing to own the cemetery and being responsible for its upkeep. It is, in fact, a key link to old Bend, with roots going back to 1903, when it began receiving bodies. The city took over its operation 10 years later, in 1913. Buried within it are the likes of Clyde McKay, whose home was located in what is now Drake Park, and members of the Overturf and Brosterhous families, whose names grace a butte and road, respectively.

Bend is a relatively young community, even by Oregon standards. Both Eugene and Portland trace their roots back to the first half of the 19th century, while La Grande got its first post office during the Civil War, for example. Bend lacks much in the way of old buildings, and even its oldest neighborhoods are far from quaint.

Much of what it does have of visible history lies in the headstones at Pilot Butte Cemetery, and keeping it available and attractive is important. The city should raise rates if it needs to do so to justify the cost of its continued ownership.