An agreement that gave a single funeral home control over the Town of Chatham's burial parks was scrapped.
The Chatham Town Council passed a memorandum of understanding in February allowing Norris Funeral Home to have exclusive use of Chatham’s burial services for Hillcrest and Chatham Burial Parks.
However, this would prove to cause problems for local competitors who felt they did not have to pay Norris for every service done for the town and have to change prices on a whim.
In Monday’s Chatham Town Council meeting, Mayor Will Pace said the memorandum was no longer in effect.
Town Manager Richard Cocke explained after the meeting that there were ten funeral homes that were represented at April’s meeting, and nine were against it. The only one who was in favor was Norris. There were also two monument companies at the meeting and both were against it as well.
He gave the reasoning behind the memorandum during a phone call.
“They wanted someone to take care of the work of the cemetery and keep good records of it without Town Hall having to do it.”
Cocke also explained he printed out the memorandum with a letter and showed it to the owners and managers of these funeral homes.
“I learned a lot about it since April,” said Cocke. “I learned things about funerals and cemeteries I didn’t know. It’s a very complex business, a lot more than just digging a hole or putting a body in it.”
He continued, “They didn’t think it was very fair. These different homes have their own gravedigger. Some sell their own monuments or buy it from other companies. You see this memorandum was exclusive to one to sell monuments and opening and closing of graves. If you have one funeral home providing tombstones and digging the grave, people that have already made arrangements for a family would not be able to fulfill what they want to do. It affected a lot of different people.”
Since the memorandum is no longer in effect, Cocke said the Town would have to make arrangements where the graves are going to be.
The memorandum stated, “Norris will exclusively sell the Town’s burial plots at a price set by the Town regardless of which funeral service is serving the decedent’s family, receiving a 10% sale commission.”
It also stated, “Norris will exclusively “open and close” all graves at the Parks regardless of which funeral service is serving the descendants family. Norris will charge $1,195 to open and close each burial plot when it is opened for use. The cost of laying out the burial plot by Norris is included in the charge. Norris will retain $700 of the “opening and closing charge for its operational expenses and the Town will receive the remaining $495 of said charge to cover its operational expenses related to the proper administration of Park records.”
Pace said that Norris turned their books in with the memorandum back in to the Town last Monday.
When asked what was next, Pace simply said, “We’ll have to see.”
Cocke gave his thoughts, “If there is a next step, that is up to the cemetery committee and then the council.”
In other matters, Martha Walker and Pittsylvania County Schools superintendent Dr. Mark Jones gave a presentation for the one-cent sales tax to the council to assist with school infrastructure, asking for endorsement.
Walker also emphasized the importance of getting it passed in November.
“We won’t get a second chance. There will be no more chances after this. We have to look at this as Pittsylvania County’s opportunity.”
Dr. Jones commented this tax was a way to shift burden off of property owners and allows visitors to the county to help pay to improve the school buildings.
“It isn’t just county citizens that will help,” he said.
Irvin Perry also made two motions. One asked for the council to “direct the Town of Chatham Treasurer to pay vendors and contractor for services rendered and approved by Town of Chatham Manager’s Office for Quality and Completeness of work. Any other terms of service or advanced payments must be reviewed by the appropriate committee and motioned for approval by Town of Chatham Council.”
Another was for “any and all employees that have access to the Southern Software Financial Management system reports directly to the Town of Chatham Treasurer.”
Both passed with votes of 6-0.
There was supposed to be a public hearing for feedback on the 2022-2023 budget before the meeting at 6:30 p.m., but after 15 minutes, nobody showed up, so the period was closed. The next council meeting is scheduled for June 13.