What should a council charge someone for a niche in their Columbarium? An interesting question, the Henley Standard reported on this giving us a rare insist into the machinations of a local authority in such matters.
The town council has spent around £90,000 to fix up and convert a disused non-conformist chapel into a columbarium that can accommodate 220 niches.
The question is how much should they charge and for what lease period.
They have recommended that a sum of £1800 or£1300 be charged depending on size for a period of 20 years.
So, what is all the commotion about. Well certain councillors think that is too cheap.
Mayor Ken Arlett said he didn’t believe the figures showed a good return on the amount of money the council had invested in the project.
He said a smaller niche would earn £54 a year over 25 years, the original lease period, and suggested the period be cut to 20 years.
Councillor Arlett added: “I think we need to show a bit more profit. Until we let all 220 boxes out, we won’t be making that profit.
“It’s only when we let all 220 niches that we start making money because we have still got the overheads year-on-year and they will go up.”
The costs were analysed by account Liz Jones who explained she had looked at the proportion of non-residents buried in the cemetery, which had been 25 per cent over the last two or three years, and devised the highest rate.
She said: “I did some calculations and if a quarter of the niches were leased out at three times [the regular amount], it would add £120,000 over the 25 years to the whole thing. It does make quite a difference. That helps the whole payback on the investment we have made.”
Then Councillor Laurence Plant said: “I still can’t help but feel even at that amount per annum, once fully let, it’s not going to come anywhere nearby.
“This is why historic buildings are let go to rack and ruin because you can’t afford to maintain them.”
Right, that is all fair enough, reasonable scrutiny for those elected to do so. Is it a reasonable price? Well, the fact that the councillors are moaning saying it won’t make a profit supports that. Should it make a profit? This is interesting, it certainly could. This is an area where many local authorities commercialise to generate income for other cost centres. Personally, I think they should avoid that route, I understand the temptation – charge market value and put the winnings back into something they struggle to fund Isn’t that the approach a fiscally area authority should take? I am not so sure. I think in the case of a local authority operating in the arena of bereavement just because you can charge more doesn’t mean you should, as it makes certain bereavement options only open to the wealthy in the community and that does not seem right. I totally get why the prices are jacked up for non-residents as they do not have a responsibility in that respect. Fair enough the cost should cover maintenance and that needs to be set correctly, but the accountant makes the point that families paying for people from elsewhere should cover that.
I would add, and I might be repeating other councillors’ words as I have not seen the full transcript, but for me there are the positive arguments that this alleviates cemetery space, restores an unused building that it would cost to maintain adding choice for its population. All positive but difficult to monetise the benefit.
So well done Henley Town council for putting your community first.