Funeral home buying land for crematorium in Greybull

by nathan oster

The owner of Atwood Family Funeral Directors wants to build a crematorium in Greybull and is close to purchasing six acres of town-owned land in the new business park on Greybull River Road.

Clayton Draggoo, who bought Atwood’s practice approximately one year ago, outlined his business plan during a special meeting of the Greybull Town Council Monday night.

The meeting doubled as a public hearing on the sale of the six acres, which represent two of the four lots that the town created directly to the west of the Scott Good residence on Greybull River Road.

No one from the public spoke in favor or against the proposal, and at night’s end, the council agreed to approve the real estate transaction, with the terms contained in the warranty deed, and to direct Administrator Paul Thur to order title insurance and set a closing date.

The appraised value of the two lots was set at $36,000.

The deal that the town struck with Draggoo was a friendly one for the business owner.

Citing economic development benefits that will spin off from the land purchase, the town is selling the lots to Draggoo for $18,000, half of their appraised value. The town will pay the closing costs and pay all closing fees; combined they aren’t expected to be more than $1,000. The warranty deed also requires the town to make arrangements to provide natural gas and a communications conduit to the property.

An early March closing is anticipated and Draggoo said he plans to break ground “as soon as possible.”


Economic benefit

Atwood’s has locations in Basin and Greybull and is the longest running funeral home and ambulance service in Wyoming. A crematorium, which by definition is a building that houses crematory units, would be something new to Big Horn County.

In addition to serving as a crematorium, the new building would also be a display location for the headstones and markers that are sold by the business.

“I’ve dedicated the last two years to compassionately supporting families at difficult times and honoring and celebrating those lives,” said Draggoo. “I think this would be a great resource and addition to the community.”

To fulfill the hearing requirements, Draggoo was asked how the enterprise would benefit the town. There are currently crematoriums in Billings, Powell and Cody, but none in Big Horn, Washakie or Springs counties.

Draggoo said the building would keep dollars that are normally spent elsewhere in the county.

There would also be a time saving component for grieving families. Whereas now it takes three, four or even five days for cremation to occur, Draggoo said, “We’d be able to do it within a day.”

He called that quick turnaround “probably the biggest benefit.”

In terms of jobs, Atwood’s already employs approximately 20 people, who work at the funeral home and on the ambulance crew. With the expansion and additional facility on Greybull River Road, Draggoo said he foresees hiring two additional full-time employees.

“There would also be a need for some part-time help, which would be added as the need would warrant it,” he said.

From a tax standpoint, the business would pay real estate taxes, thus increasing the county valuation.

Draggoo said the national trend is toward cremation and away from burial, which is generally more expensive.

“It’s projected that by 2020, the national cremation rate will be over 50 percent,” said Draggoo. “Over the last 30 years we’ve seen a steady and very progressive incline and shift toward cremation.

“There’s been lots of speculation about why this is occurring, like how our population is becoming more mobile and less connected. But there is an economic component to it as well.”

Draggoo was also asked about emissions from the facility. He said it would be “well below the limit,” in the 15 to 20 percent range, of what’s allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kent Richins, the town attorney, discussed the terms of the warranty deed, explaining that because there is an economic development benefit to the be gained, the town has the option of selling the property for less than its appraised value.

A reversionary clause is included in the purchase, one that would nullify the deal and put the land back on the town’s books if Draggoo is unable to provide proof of purchase of a crematory unit. Richins said he had essentially two years to provide that proof.

Draggoo said the purchase of the land and construction of the crematorium set the business up for future success. “This is our 85th anniversary year,” he said, citing the purchase of the business by the Atwood family in 1931. “We think this will position us well for at least the next 85 years.”

Mayor Myles Foley said a key part of the agreement is that the building “will look super nice” when it is finished. “We’ve already got others who are interested in purchasing land out there too,” he said. “So it’s exciting. This will be good for the community.”

Foley said the business-friendly nature of the deal “shows that we, as a council, are behind him and are working hard to get businesses in here.”