Cemeteries and Cemetery Administration
This page contains information on the administration of public cemeteries and cemetery districts in Washington State, including statutory authority and sample documents, as well as the regulation of private cemeteries.
Many cities and towns in Washington operate municipal cemeteries. Many other cemeteries are operated by cemetery districts.
General Cemetery Statutes and Regulations
- Title 68 RCW – Cemeteries, Morgues, and Human Remains
- Ch. 68.52 RCW – Public Cemeteries and Morgues - Provides for county morgues, burial, cemetery acquisition and improvements, city and town cemetery boards, cemetery improvement funds, and the creation of cemetery districts.
- Ch. 68.60 RCW – Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries and Historic Graves
- RCW 68.20.080 – Provides that cities and counties may regulate private cemeteries
- Title 98 WAC – Licensing, Department of (Cemetery Board)
- WAC 458-16-180 – Property Tax exemptions - Embalmers - Cemeteries
- Washington State Department of Licensing: Cemetery Licensing
Municipal Cemetery Statutes
Many municipal cemeteries are operated by the city parks department and maintained by the department's grounds personnel. Below are the statutes relevant to city, town, and county cemeteries:
- RCW 68.52.030 – Counties and cities may provide for burial, acquire cemeteries, etc
- RCW 68.52.040 – Cities and towns may own, improve, etc., cemeteries
- RCW 35.22.280(20) – Specific powers enumerated
- RCW 35.23.440(48) – Specific powers enumerated
- RCW 35.27.370(2) – Specific powers enumerated
Cemetery districts may also be established to maintain and operate local cemeteries, pursuant to RCW 68.52.090 - .330. The formation of these districts must be approved by voters, and the districts are governed by a board of three elected commissioners who serve staggered six-year terms (RCW 68.52.220).
Cemetery districts elections must conform with general election laws, except there is no primary election to nominate candidates. Instead, all candidates appear on the general election ballot, and the candidate receiving the largest number of votes for each position is elected (RCW 68.52.155).
Cemetery districts may levy a nonvoted property tax up to 11.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value and may not contract indebtedness in any year exceeding the aggregate amount of the currently levied taxes (RCW 68.52.290; RCW 68.52.310). The county treasurer receives and disburses all district revenues and taxes using a dedicated cemetery district fund (RCW 68.52.280).
Cemetery districts may also levy one-year excess levies for operations and maintenance, subject to 60% voter approval and minimum validation (voter turnout) requirements (RCW 84.52.052 and Washington State Constitution, Article VII Section 2).
MRSC is aware of 103 cemetery districts in Washington State; for a complete list, download our List of Cemetery Districts (Excel spreadsheet).
For a map of these districts, see the State Auditor's Office page Explore Governments That Serve You. (Under "Choose a Mode," select "Government Type Mode," then click on "Cemetery District.")
Green Burials and Natural Composting
Over time, funeral and memorial services have changed and expanded beyond cremation services and traditional funeral burials to offer more choices and to accommodate more environmentally friendly options. Natural organic reduction, alkaline hydrolysis, and green burials are all alternative ways to honor those who have passed away. Since 2019, “natural composting,” – also known as “natural organic reduction” and “above ground composting,” – is allowed by Washington State law as an alternative to traditional burials and cremation services (RCW 68.50.110).
These processes are summarized in this MRSC blog post, Natural Composting of Human Remains - A First for Washington State.
For more information, see Green Burial Council—a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable, green burial practices.
Remains of Indigent Persons
- RCW 36.39.030 – Remains of indigent persons
- RCW 73.08.070 – County burial of indigent deceased veterans
Examples of Codes
- Auburn Municipal Code Sec. 2.72.305 – Welfare burials
- Okanogan Municipal Code Ch. 8.60 – Indigent remains
- Thurston County Code Ch. 2.116 – Unclaimed remains of indigent persons
- Whatcom County Code Ch. 2.06 – Article II – Indigent human remains
- Ch. 68.60 RCW – Abandoned and historic cemeteries and historic graves
- Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation: Cemeteries – See also Cemetery Preservation Guidance
- U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places Bulletin (1992)
- Washington Tombstone Transcription Project
Examples of Cemetery Documents
- Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 2.72 – Cemetery
- Bellingham Municipal Code Ch. 8.08 – Cemetery Operation
- Burlington Municipal Code Ch. 2.68 – Cemetery
- Edmonds Municipal Code Ch. 10.16 – Cemetery Board
- Kirkland Municipal Code Ch. 5.36 – Cemetery Improvement Fun
- Langley Municipal Code Ch. 2.52 – City Cemetery
- Okanogan County Code Ch. 2.56 – Cemeteries and Cemetery Districts - Regulations and cemetery districts created
- Walla Walla Municipal Code Ch. 2.76 – Mountain View Cemetery
Cemetery Board Rules, Regulations, and Fees
- Grand View Cemetery – Provides policies, fee schedules, information on markers
- Policies and Procedures for Grand View Cemetery (2010)
- Auburn Mountain View Cemetery – Information on services, cemetery etiquette, map, cemetery board, history
- Bellingham Bayview Cemetery – See their About Bayview Cemetery page (for information on price guide, cemetery maps, cemetery records, about Bayview (mission statement, history, tours, trees), frequently asked questions, and a photo gallery). Also, see their Administration and Operation of Bayview Cemetery page (for information on administration and operation, memorial sales, contracting at-need services, contracting pre-arrangement services, and canceling or changing pre-arrangement contracts.
- Island County Cemetery District No. 2 Sunnyside Cemetery – Includes rules and regulations, monument maintenance, history, burial listings, commissioners
- Kirkland Cemetery – Includes links to rates and cemetery administrative policy
- Langley Woodmen Cemetery – Provides for Green Burials - Includes Cemetery Board and its minutes
- Mason County Cemetery District No. 1 Twin Firs Cemetery – Includes commissioners, bylaws and policies, and a catalog of graves
- Walla Walla Mountain View Cemetery – Includes history, rules and regulations, pre-planning, marker cleaning, burial search
Historic Public Cemeteries
- Bothell Ordinance No. 1416 - Assumption of Pioneer Cemetery (1991)
- Tumwater Historic Sites Union/Pioneer Calvary Cemeteries and Municipal Code Ch. 12.40
- Camas Cemetery Master Plan (2009) – Identifies five major goals regarding database/information system, service expectations, financial stability, maximizing property to meet future needs, and developing a strong volunteer/donation program.
- Kirkland Cemetery Business Plan (2008) – Plan to increase cemetery revenue without substantially increasing costs; cemetery has no more burial plots remaining. Includes discussion of revenue and expenditure funds, costs of service, SWOT analysis, and debt service schedule.
- Mabton 2016-2020 Parks and Cemetery Comprehensive Plan (2015) – Five-year plan includes community needs, desired improvements, and level of service goals.
- Washougal Cemetery Operational Plan (2012) – 20-year plan includes improvements and phased projects to streamline customer service, enhance aesthetics, and address current trends in environmental awareness for maintenance methods and burial options.
RFPs / Bid Documents
- Auburn Cemetery Management RFP (2013) – Includes financial statements for cemetery fund, excerpts of municipal code, and frequency of landscape services by calendar month.
- Orting Cemetery Irrigation Installation ITB (2018) – System design, installation, and system testing for municipal cemetery. Includes sample short form contract.
- Pend Oreille County/Pend Oreille County Cemetery District No. 1 Public Works Bid Development Agreement (2016) – County assists with development of project scope/formal bid document for cemetery district paving project. County will also assist with bid advertisement and provide technical assistance and field inspection during performance of work.
- Sultan Cemetery Landscape Services RFP (2012) – Includes price quote form and sample on-call public works contract.
- Walla Walla Cremation Niche RFP (2013) – Site design, purchase, and installation of cremation niches at municipal cemetery.
- Lewis County/Lewis County Cemetery District No. 1 Master Public Works Agreement (2013) –County performs various public works services for cemetery district for five years, not to exceed $20,000 per agreement or $50,000 annually.
- Cemetery Flagpole Repair Agreement (2013) – County performs minor repair work pursuant to master interlocal agreement
- Whatcom County/Whatcom County Cemetery District No. 1 Payroll Services Agreement (2016) – County provides payroll services to cemetery district for three years
- Edmonds Cemetery Sexton (2013) – Oversees, coordinates, and maintains municipal cemetery, including facilities, grounds, and equipment; assisting families with funeral arrangements; making purchases; collecting payments; and maintaining documents and permits.
- Leavenworth Parks/Cemetery Maintenance Worker (2018) – Basic maintenance and repair of city parks, facilities, cemetery grounds, rights-of-way, and other facilities. Part-time, seasonal position.
- Skamania County Cemetery District Grounds Maintenance Worker (2014) – Full-time position; may be reduced to 80% during winter.
- Sumner Cemetery Administration Manager (2015) – Develops cemetery management policies and procedures; hires and manages cemetery staff
- International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association (ICCFA)
- Washington Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association (WCCFA)
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Cemetery Administration,
- Washington State Library: Cemetery & Obituary Resources
- Green Burial Council: Standards/Eco-Rating System for Burial Grounds