Sale of Cemetery Monuments

Published on June 14th, 2019

Memorandum of Opposition

 Re: S.4610 Savino / A.7350 Woerner
In relation to the sale of monuments by religious cemeteries 

The above-referenced bill applies to cemeteries organized and operated under the Religious Corporations Law and would prohibit those cemeteries from selling monuments and memorials. The Catholic Conference continues to object to governmental encroachment on the operation of Church-affiliated cemeteries. These cemeteries perform burial services according to the rites and rituals of the Church and, as such, are and should remain outside the purview of governmental intrusion. 

The New York State Catholic Conference opposes this legislation. 

It is vital for financial stability to allow religious cemeteries to supplement and diversify their revenue sources to ensure perpetual care, maintenance and stability of the cemetery. 

Cemeteries across New York are constantly losing income as the sale of gravesites and interments declines. Unlike non-sectarian cemeteries, Catholic cemeteries must meet their financial obligations, as they are never turned over to the State or local municipality if they fail. Importantly, Catholic cemeteries are responsible for maintaining not only the graves but all memorials and materials that are placed in the cemetery forever. 

Since 2017, New York State has ensured a level playing field for all monument sellers, by exempting the sale of monuments from all sales and use taxes. This exemption was continued this year in Part FFF of the Laws of 2019, Chapter 59. Yet now, having gained the continuation of the sales tax exemptions, the for-profit monument dealers are attempting to drive out all competition. 

Our religious cemeteries face the same dilemma that the not-for-profit cemeteries are facing. We need to find additional revenue streams in order to ensure that our cemeteries will be maintained for perpetuity, as we can think of no other “business” that has a single source of income, a limited “customer base” and yet is expected to maintain itself forever. Cemeteries across the state need additional resources to prevent them from falling into disrepair and abandonment. 

Memorial products have been delivered to our cemeteries for centuries. Dealers that have provided those memorials have come and gone; however, those memorials have remained on our properties. When monuments have become vandalized, unsightly, or toppled, the cemeteries are the ones who rectify them. The cemetery must expend funds to repair such misfortune and it makes strong sense that cemeteries be able to offer the memorials for which they will have perpetual responsibility. 

Finally, excluding cemeteries from the sale of monuments hurts the consumer. Permitting cemeteries to sell monuments increases choices and lowers prices for consumers. By limiting the choices that consumers have, you run the risk of significantly higher prices being charged for cemetery and funeral merchandise. 

For these reasons, the New York State Catholic Conference opposes this legislation and urges its defeat.