BAKER — City Council members reluctantly agreed Monday they will have to raise prices for plots and services in the city-owned cemetery to offset rising costs for labor and burial fixtures.

Cemeterian Pam O’Neil told the mayor and council during an informational session Monday that a survey of the larger cemeteries in East Baton Rouge Parish shows that Hillcrest is the cheapest.

“Being the cheapest is not the best thing to be,” O’Neil said, adding the city has not raised prices since 2008.

O’Neil said the main drag on the cemetery fund is the “pre-need” agreements made when the cemetery was in private hands.

People bought plots in the cemetery and were promised vaults, grave-opening and -closing work, and grave markers.

“We have to furnish that, but we never got any of the money,” O’Neil said.

The federal Small Business Administration persuaded the city to take over Hillcrest Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum on Groom Road in the 1980s after its private developer went into bankruptcy.

The city also sells pre-need space in the cemetery.

On June 30, 2010, the city was obligated for more than $500,000 from pre-need sales, according to the city audit.

The Louisiana Cemetery Commission has required the city to put half of the pre-need costs or prices, whichever is greater, into a trust fund for future maintenance.

The mayor and council members make decisions on the cemetery’s operations by meeting as a special board of commissioners.

No formal vote was allowed in Monday’s “work session.”

Mayor Harold Rideau said work performed at the cemetery by other city employees, particularly the building and grounds crew, is not reimbursed by the cemetery fund.

“We’re using taxpayer dollars to run the cemetery,” Rideau said.

“This should be an enterprise fund. It should be making money, but it won’t at these prices,” City Attorney Ron Wall said, referring to proposed price increases O’Neil presented Monday.

O’Neil suggested raising the price for a grave plot from $1,200 to $1,500, which she said still would be cheaper than prices charged at the Resthaven, Greenoaks, Roselawn and Winnfield cemeteries in Baton Rouge.

The charge for opening and closing a grave would increase from $700 on weekdays to $900 and from $1,000 to $1,200 on Saturdays, under her proposal.

Mausoleum crypts, which range in price from $2,200 to $6,000, would increase by 15 percent.

The cost of the required burial vaults reflects the price charged by the supplier and is adjusted annually, O’Neil said.

“I know we need to go up, but the country has gone crazy in raising prices,” said Councilman Fred O. Russell, adding the economy is causing many people difficulty in providing basic essentials.

“I know we have to do it. I’m not in favor of doing it. But we have a fiduciary duty,” Councilman A.J. Walls said.