Amherst Cemetery Lot Inventory and Time Remaining

I spent some time at the Department of Public Works here in Amherst looking at the remaining lots (unsold) in Meadowview Cemetery.  I wanted to be able to make a calculation of how many years of usage are remaining at Meadowview as a double check on what the Cemetery Trustees have said.  It turns out that we have the capacity for 661 burials left at Meadowview Cemetery.  Here’s the breakdown:

Lot Type Number of Lots Burial Capacity
Single Lots: 66 66
Double Lots: 225 450
Triple Lots: 27 81
Quadruple Lots: 16 64
  Total Capacity: 661

To answer the question of how many years until the cemetery is full, we have to consider a few things – how many burials we make per year, and how many of those burials require a new lot.  This is because people can purchase lots today for usage in the future, and those lots make up the majority of the ones used for burials. So let’s go back over our burial rate in Amherst cemeteries.  Over the last 80 years, the average burial rate is 22/year, plus or minus 6.  We have seen this here before.  Remember that the current year’s number is not for the full year.

Annual number of burials in Amherst, NH cemeteries. Data from Department of Public Works records.

Annual number of burials in Amherst, NH cemeteries. Data from Department of Public Works records.

And we have numbers for lot sales, though unfortunately not for the same range of years.  To make this simpler, we will just look at the percentage of burials using previously purchased (perpetual care) lots here.  The most recent number is around 60%.  The details on where these come from is here.

Percentage of Amherst cemetery burials using previously held (perpetual care) lots.

Percentage of Amherst cemetery burials using previously held (perpetual care) lots.

So now we have what we need to know.  Let’s do the “most likely” analysis using the 80 year average burial rate (22/year) and the 60% number for perpetual care lot usage from the graph above.  That means 40% of the burials require new lots taken away from the 661 we have today.  So how long will it take until Meadowview is full?  Answer: 75 years.

Current Lot Inventory: 661
Burials/year: 22
Percentage using newly purchased lots: 40
New Lot Purchases/year: 8.8
Previously Sold Lot Usages/year: 13.2
Time to exhaust inventory (years): 75.1

Let’s take a “worse case” scenario and use the 28/year burial rate (22+6) and the same new/perpetual care split.  How many years are left at Meadowview then?  Answer:  59 years.

Current Lot Inventory: 661
Burials/year: 28
Percentage using newly purchased lots: 40
New Lot Purchases/year: 11.2
Previously Sold Lot Usages/year: 16.8
Time to exhaust inventory (years): 59.0

Obviously these hold so long as past trends continue into the future.  Who knows if or when our increase in population may eventually start to show in our burial rates.  But notice that it hasn’t for 80 years.  And we have no idea how many perpetual care lots are left to be used, because no one really keeps track of that specifically.  So let’s take this one step further and imagine there are no perpetual care lots left to use, and we use our statistical high rate of 28 burials/year rate, all of which take up a previously unsold lot.  This would be our “worst case” scenario.  How long then?  Answer:  23 years.

Current Lot Inventory: 661
Burials/year: 28
Percentage using newly purchased lots: 100
New Lot Purchases/year: 28
Previously Sold Lot Usages/year: 0
Time to exhaust inventory (years): 23.6
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Amherst Cemetery Lot Sales

There is one significant aspect of our town cemeteries that has managed to evade the conversation. Burial lots can be purchased at the time of need prior to a funeral, or they can be purchased in advance. These are known as “perpetual care” lots, and it is not uncommon for people or families to make these purchases, sometimes in quantity, for the future.

We have already looked at the usage of cemetery lots in town by examining the annual interment data and finding a relatively constant average 22 burials/year over many decades.  But what we have not looked at is how quickly new lots are being purchased.  That is, how quickly are we purchasing the unsold lots in our existing Amherst cemeteries, and how quickly are we using up those which were already purchased?  Understanding these numbers lets us understand the demands our town places on our cemetery land reserves.

This is a relatively straightforward question to answer, at least during a span of time over which we can get numbers. The fine people at our Department of Public Works have been very patient and most helpful with my requests for information. As it turns out, one of the annual reporting duties of the DPW is to notify the NH Attorney General’s office of the sale of cemetery lots (the AG’s office oversees cemetery trusts), so this information is already tabulated on an annual basis. Unfortunately there are some years (1982-1991) for which the numbers can’t be readily located in town records (these records used to be maintained in other places and they would seem to have either been lost/misplaced or were perhaps never recorded). I may request copies of these reports from the AG’s office, but I digress. What data I have now will suffice.

The graph below plots burials in Amherst cemeteries (in blue) during the years for which I was able to obtain lot purchase data (1971-2008), and also the lot sales data (in red). Note the 1982-1991 lapse in red points on the graph – the missing record years. It is, I think, reasonable to assume the trend bridging the gap here. In any case, the sale of new lots is a surprisingly small number, with the average over more than three decades being 7.6 cemetery lots sold per year.

Amherst cemetery burials and lot sales from 1971-2008.

Amherst cemetery burials and lot sales from 1971-2008.

If you are the sort of person who sees value in histograms, we can view it that way too.  If you aren’t used to histograms, what this shows is a count of how many times each number shows up in each set.  In other words, how many years there were sales or usage of a given number of burial lots.  You can see that there were six years where six lots were sold (red), and also six years where 20 lots were used (blue) and each set peaks very close to its average lots/year value (7.6 for lots sold, 22 for burials). This is just another illustration of the separation between the number of lots used and sold each year.

Histogram view of the burial lots used and sold for the years 1971-2008.

Histogram view of the burial lots used and sold for the years 1971-2008.

These data give us some insight into how our cemeteries are used. It is quite clear from the above graphs that more burials are performed than there are sales of new lots each year. We have no good way of knowing if the lot purchases were made for immediate use, or if the lots were bought to be held in perpetual care. But let us assume they were purchased for immediate use.  Now the difference between two data sets establishes the lower limit to the number of previously sold (perpetual care) lots used for burial each year. This is graphed below.

Usage of previously purchased cemetery lots in Amherst, 1971-2008

Usage of previously purchased (perpetual care) cemetery lots in Amherst, 1971-2008 (lower limit).

This is useful because it can be used to calculate the lower bound on the percentage of burials in Amherst which draw from the previously sold, or perpetual care, lots, as plotted below.  The average value is 68.3%.

Percentage of Amherst cemetery burials using previously held (perpetual care) lots.

Percentage of Amherst cemetery burials using previously held (perpetual care) lots.  Note that this is a lower bound because we are assuming that lot sales go to immediate burials and not to perpetual care.

What these data indicate is that an average of at least 68% of burials in Amherst each year are performed using perpetual care lots (i.e. lots which were not purchased in the burial year). The lot sales numbers from DPW indicate that 7.6 new Amherst cemetery lots are sold on average each year, which is the actual demand for new cemetery land in Amherst.  As the town’s population surpasses 12,000 today, I will admit to being rather surprised by this.

The obvious followup question here is how many unsold plots remain in our existing cemeteries?  This is one which can only be answered by the DPW.  The other question is what is the difference between the number of deaths in town each year and the burial numbers.  Understanding this would help us to interpret what we see here.