When residents and councilmembers joined Assistant City Manager Chris Anaradian at the Glendale Women’s Club on August 7 to discuss the proposed sale of the Glendale Memorial Park Cemetery, concerns over the fate of the historic property were raised.
Councilman Jamie Aldama organized the meeting to keep residents in the loop on the potential sale, which the Glendale City Council will review and discuss at a workshop before voting on Tuesday, August 27.
Anaradian discussed the property’s history — including its inability to become a self-sustaining business — and the terms behind the transaction that is being proposed.
According to Anaradian, the city loses nearly $100,000 a year maintaining the burial ground under the current public operating model. In 2018, a national consulting firm was hired to look at the cemetery’s operations and make recommendations for best practices.
“They made two recommendations,” he said. “‘You put more money into it and really jump start it to be a business…or you find a private operator that can do it better than you.”’
When the city chose the latter, it worked with the same consulting firm to identify interested parties and compile a marketing package, which was advertised in early May, said James Milanese, engineering administrator.
Third-generation cemetery owner and native Arizonan John Hassett wants to purchase the Glendale Memorial Park Cemetery.
“We’ve done our research on this potential buyer. We feel that they are well-qualified to protect the interest that we have in our public trust,” Anaradian said.
Hassett will pay $100,000 to the city, which will then transfer $3.8 million to an irrevocable endowment trust, which will exclusively fund the perpetual care of the site. Those funds come from a perpetual care fund that is currently valued at $5.8 million.
When asked why the city is not transferring all $5.8 million, Anaradian said the fund, which has been subsidized city-wide, accumulated more money than is necessary in private hands.
“That is money the city council did not count on when they prepared the budget for the year that we’re in and future years. That is new revenue that the council would then have to consider what to do with that,” Anaradian explained.
And when Regina Zambrano, who said she has family in the cemetery, asked if those buried would be removed under private operation, Anaradian said no one is moving.
“The cemetery isn’t turning into something else. Every single descendent of every single grave would have to sign a piece of paper agreeing for that to happen under today’s laws. The chances of us even finding the people to sign the paper means that we would not be able to make that happen, if we wanted to,” he said.
Because municipal cemeteries are exempt from all operational assurances — including background checks on owners, contract disclosures and demonstration of financial capability — the Glendale Memorial Park Cemetery is better off privately owned, Hassett said.
“I know there was a conversation of, ‘Where’s grandma going to go? Where’s my aunt and my uncle going to go?’ Under me, they can’t go anywhere. That’s not going to happen,” Hassett said.
“You’re actually — I’m not saying the city is going to do it — at more risk to close the cemetery under government control than under private sector control.”
If approved by city council, the transition to private operation will take 60 to 90 days.