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StoneMor’s management of Beth Israel doesn’t appear to have resulted in higher costs for clients. An adult burial at the cemetery costs $1,625, according to a May 2011 pricing chart, roughly on par with other New Jersey Jewish cemeteries. Some worry about the future, however, and whether for-profit companies seeking to win profits out of not-for-profit cemeteries are failing to ensure the burial grounds’ long-term survival.
That concern was behind the New York cemetery board’s efforts in the late 1990s to ban the management agreements with for-profit companies. “The management agreement is a superfluous agreement which does not increase the maintenance or care of the cemetery,” said Richard Fishman, director of the New York State Department of State’s Division of Cemeteries. In the long term, Fishman said he had worried that the for-profits wouldn’t stand by the cemeteries. “If there is no more profit, why would you do it? Then these people would disappear and the cemetery would be left on the hook,” Fishman said.
Cemetery reform advocates in New Jersey say that they hope reform of the state’s cemetery regulation regime will bring New Jersey in line with New York in areas such as management fees.
“We want the nonprofit cemeteries to make enough money to maintain themselves and to pay the people who work there, obviously,” said Weinberg, the state lawmaker. She said that the amount Beth Israel had paid in management fees was “quite phenomenal.”
Weinberg said that her cemetery reform bills would be considered in a state senate committee beginning on December 17.
“Our main goal has always been to find a way for the state of New Jersey to regulate cemeteries the way New York State does,” said Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, a former president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis who has been engaged in the board’s cemetery reform efforts. “This legislation at least helps try to rein that in a little bit.”
Cemetery officials, on the other hand, say that the business is harder than it looks. David Shipper, who now owns dozens of cemeteries and funeral homes as president and CEO of Midwest Memorial Group and Indiana Memorial Group, among other firms, said that people don’t appreciate the costs involved. “When a backhoe costs $80,000 and the tent and chairs cost $8,000, it’s a tough business and people don’t understand what it costs to be ready for an interment, especially a Jewish interment,” Shipper said.