Yuma County has run out of room.
At Yuma Pioneer Cemetery, that is.
The land inside the cemetery that belongs to the county and is used for indigent burials is filled to capacity. There is nowhere else to bury the remains of anyone who, for whatever reason, is the responsibility of the county.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Candy Wheeler-Ruby, Yuma County’s public fiduciary, said that the county has come up with a solution, and it’s a stark contrast to the conditions at the indigent burial section at Pioneer Cemetery.
The county, which now cremates all indigent remains, has constructed a state-of-the-art columbarium on a portion of land at the Yuma County Department of Development Services, 2351 W. 26th St., where what Wheeler-Ruby refers to as “cremains” will now be interred.
The idea for the columbarium evolved out of necessity. Wheeler-Ruby said the land allotted the county at Yuma Pioneer Cemetery was, for all intents and purposes, used up. And when the county asked the city if there was any other space available, it was told no.
“There are indigent burials that were buried there 50 years ago or more so we’ve absolutely taken up a lot of land in that city cemetery,” said Wheeler-Ruby.
“We just hit a point where the section we were in, we were starting to run out, and when we talked to the city about it, asked if there was another place where we could move, the city was like, there isn’t.
“And the city was already kind of wanting to stop burials in that cemetery area. And the city came back and said ‘Let’s not keep doing this.’ The city said, ‘Look, there really isn’t any place for you to go and second we really don’t want you to keep going in here, so as soon as you run out of this section, you’re done.’”
That was about seven years ago, said Wheeler-Ruby, who added that she thought that was plenty of time to plan what would happen next, but it went by pretty quick.
“So we’re glad that we’re moving over into this columbarium.”
She said the county is hoping to formally dedicate the new columbarium and start placing “cremains” in it sometime in July.
In the meantime, the county is no longer burying remains at Yuma Pioneer Cemetery.
Wheeler-Ruby said that the new columbarium has a current capacity of 400 spaces, which should last 5-7 years.
“We can get several cremations in a smaller part of land,” she said.
She also said there is already an additional concrete pad for expansion.
The columbarium is also considered a cost-saving solution, she said.
“We knew we were having issues with land so we wanted to see if there was a way that we could do something that would save on that cost and this is what we found. And actually, it’s much nicer. It just looks nicer.”
She said the county switched from burials to cremating the remains of indigents almost nine years ago. The law regarding the handling of those remains changed 15 years ago, she said, allowing counties to change to cremation only.
“And at the time we just didn’t,” said Wheeler-Ruby. “Yuma County didn’t. At that point we still had plenty of land and we decided we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. We did cremation if the family wanted it, but we also did burial.
“And if there was no family, we just buried.”
When space at the cemetery became an issue, Wheeler-Ruby said the county attorney was approached, who studied the state statute, and said the county was within its rights to begin cremating.
“And there were a couple of other counties that had already started doing it, so at that point, when we knew we were running out of land, that was when I said, ‘Alright, let’s move to cremation so we can stretch out our land as long as we can.’”
Originally the county was looking at acquiring land from the Bureau of Land Management for the columbarium project, “but that is a long process and we were running out of time,” said Wheeler-Ruby.
“We made the decision to look at what land the county already owned. And the land at the DDS location was exactly what we needed so that site was chosen.”