Red Butte Cemetery plans for the future |

Red Butte Cemetery plans for the future

ASPEN ” The Red Butte Cemetery has flown under the radar for more than 100 years since the 17-acre parcel was deeded to the association ” charged with its upkeep and operation ” in 1899. But now that the association has proposed a 3,000-square-foot caretaker and maintenance facility, the cemetery has brought neighborhood controversy to life.

The eight-member volunteer board that heads the association has found itself in the middle of a neighborhood fight ” residents who live near the cemetery are trying to kill the development proposal.

The project is up for review by the Historic Preservation Commission next month, and then onto the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council for approval.

John Thorpe, president of the Red Butte Association, said the facility is essential to preserving and maintaining the historic place where generations of Aspenites are interred.

The L-shaped building would include a 1,125-square-foot, three-bay garage and shop, as well as a 1,425-square-foot, two-bedroom caretaker unit. There also would be a 330-square-foot office.

Thorpe said it hasn’t been estimated how much the project would cost, but whatever it is, the board won’t dip into existing funds to pay for it. Either a fundraiser, grants or the selling of transferable development rights will be the economic engine for the facility.

Thorpe said the association doesn’t want to spend any money out of its endowment fund, which has about $400,000. That money is set aside for when the cemetery is full.

“At some point the cemetery will stop generating revenue,” Thorpe said. “We are very prudent because we need to add to the long-term viability of the cemetery in a graceful manner.”

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit had a fund balance of $430,362 in 2006, according to a tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Most of that is the endowment funds, which are managed by Wally Obermeyer, a financial planner in Aspen. In 2006, the association also had $26,208 in temporary investments, including CDs and savings.

The cemetery took in $147,405 in revenue in 2006 and spent $85,661.

That year, the Red Butte Cemetery Association brought in $70,000 in plot sales; $6,335 in plot preparation and $31,800 in plot care and maintenance, which is a cost built into the initial sale, Thorpe said.

As far as expenses, the association in 2006 spent $16,256 in maintenance, $5,150 in grave digging and $49,241 in cemetery expansion, among other items.

In 2007, the board doubled the price of a plot, which now costs $2,000, plus another $500 to dig the grave; $250 if it’s a cremation.

“We have to adjust our prices because of all the things that it takes to maintain a cemetery,” Thorpe said, adding that capital expenses come out of the association’s short-term investments. Major projects like a new sprinkler system, a new head gate and the maintenance of 200 cottonwoods are paid for through investment earnings.

Routine maintenance and general upkeep are paid for by revenues from cemetery operations, which are overseen by a caretaker who has worked at Red Butte for nearly 20 years. It’s not a full-time position, but he is required to be on hand almost every day.

“We need that [caretaker unit] as an incentive to attract someone to take care of it,” Thorpe said.

There are 6,000 plots in the developed portion of the cemetery, which is about 14 acres. There are between 1,000 to 1,200 still available for sale. Thorpe said about 10 to 15 burials occur every year. The Jewish community bought a sizable portion of the cemetery several years ago, Thorpe noted.

Properly maintaining the cemetery is key to its success, Thorpe said. The Red Butte Cemetery Association financially operates on its own, with no government grants. Aspen’s other two cemeteries ” the Ute and Aspen Grove, which have been ignored for years ” recently received grants to restore them.

“Cemeteries all over the country are falling into disrepair,” Thorpe said, adding that the board might seek government grants in the future.

Thorpe said many of the board members have special connections to the cemetery in that their family members ” some four generations back ” are buried there. The cemetery also represents Aspen’s history with many prominent figures, like a former Colorado governor, as well some of the town’s characters, interred there.

“It’s a community service for the board members,” Thorpe said. “It’s important for people who have the history there and have ties to Aspen.”

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