Plans for the establishment of a crematorium at Avondale Cemetery are moving forward.
While sitting as the community services committee, council approved a motion to see the process to construct the crematorium start subject to government approval.
The decision came after a thorough presentation from city-hired cemetery planning consultants, Hilton Landmarks Inc.
The proposed crematorium would be constructed in the northwest corner of the cemetery. The property would have to be connected with roads to the main cemetery, along with the construction of an access road near O'Loane Avenue.
Room for expansion and a future chapel or visitation centre was also recommended. The project is expected to cost $500,000 to $600,000.
The cremation industry is growing, council heard, with an anticipated annual increase of 3.9 per cent. The number of annual cremations in the Stratford market, which extends through Perth, Huron and Bruce counties, is expected to increase from 1,745 in 2005 to 4,582 in 2030. Aging of the baby-boom population is expected to increase the number of deaths by 66 per cent in the time period.
It is estimated Parkview Cemetery in Waterloo performs over 400 cremations from the Stratford area each year.
"The cremation industry has grown rapidly," said consultant Fraser Drysdale, noting only two per cent of deceased were cremated in 1952 compared to 47 per cent in 2002. "And rates are forecast to continue to increase."
Last year, Avondale Cemetery conducted 135 casket burials and interned 120 cremated remains. However, up to 60 per cent of bodies that are cremated are never interned; instead, the ashes are spread or kept by family.
Drysdale said a Stratford crematorium could service a population over 427,000, drawing from 125 funeral homes in the area.
Since the facility would be municipally-owned, it would be "an unbiased supplier of services" to funeral homes, which in turn, would not worry about doing business with industry competitors.
With annual overhead costs pegged at $122,225, the facility would have to perform about 500 cremations in the first year to profit.
"You only need to capture about 24 per cent of the local market to make money," said Drysdale.
Profits could go into a care and maintenance trust fund for cemetery upkeep, "deterring the need for taxpayer subsidy," he said.
Coun. Lloyd Lichti questioned whether there was enough business for the crematorium to be a sustainable operation.
Consultant Rob Hilton said there should be enough traffic in the area. The closest crematoria are in Waterloo, Kitchener and London.
With about 33 per cent of Oxford County in Stratford's "catchment" area, Coun. Kathy Rae asked whether those people would bring their business to Stratford.
"Those numbers seen rather high," she said.
Hilton explained funeral directors will seek out the facility closest to home to save money on transportation costs.
Coun. Cheryl Ruby spoke out in support of the project.
"If we can do anything to continue to provide care and maintenance, I think we have that responsibility," she said. "And by establishing a crematorium, it sounds like an opportunity to do that."
The motion to move forward requires final approval by council.