Lancaster Rural Cemetery under new management, seeking support from residents
For the last few years, the town board has provided the cemetery with a $10,000 grant to cover annual operating costs. Some residents have questioned how their tax dollars are being spent at the cemetery, as well as other practices occurring at the cemetery.
If the town did not provide the grant, state law requires that a municipality must take over a cemetery, which is not financially viable.
“The cost to the taxpayers would be more than double [compared to] what we disburse toward operations, said President of the Lancaster Rural Cemetery James Allein. “Also, the municipality would have to acquaint themselves with the procedure of laying out, digging, and care of the cemetery as dictated by the state or out-source it which would be cost prohibitive.”
Allein stated it would cost the town, the taxpayers, $250,000 to $300,000 a year to maintain the cemetery. Due to the amount of money town laborers get paid per hour, instead of one person mowing the land most likely a crew would be sent out to mow, which requires special equipment, and lastly a secretary would need to be hired to oversee paperwork, just to name a few examples.
“If you break down that $10,000 it is about 10 cents per taxpayer,” said Member of the Lancaster Rural Cemetery Board Christine Scott. “So, if they’re complaining about 10 cents they need to worry about other things going on. There is no mismanagement of dollars. We have little to work with every year.”
According to the cemetery’s annual report, as of the end of December, it shows an income of $64,241, minus the $10,000 grant from the town, versus expenses of $73,255.
“Simple math shows we need the $10,000,” remarked Allein. “Our annual report is issued as part of the requirements of the NYS Department of State, Division of Cemeteries. It is public information.”
A big part of the cemetery’s expenses are wages, roughly $40,000, and maintaining the property and machines. There are two paid employees at the cemetery. One is the new superintendent, who works full-time and just started a little more than a month ago, and one part-time employee, who is an on-call employee- meaning he works up to 30 hours if he is needed.
“The board members are very impressed as to what [the new superintendent] has done so far to the building, in the office area, and the cemetery itself,” remarked Allein.
In fact, on the plus side of things, there have been more sales so far this year than we have had up to this point last year, said Allein.
The cemetery is also governed by a board of six volunteer members who oversee the operations of the cemetery. They meet once a month.
“The board is proactive,” remarked Allein. “They want to see the cemetery continue and have the community be proud of it. We’re constantly monitoring the operations out there and trying to change things to become more efficient.”
Equipment used by the cemetery includes two mowing machines, one of which is six years old and the other is three years old. The backhoe for digging graves is about 40 years old.
“It is in poor condition to say the least and we would like to replace it, but cannot at this point,” commented Allein. “It would cost $50,000 to $60,000 to replace it. Right now, we can’t afford it.”
A new gator, which is used to move soil, was purchased to replace the old one, which could not be repaired economically, said Allein.
Scott said the engine blew on the gator.
“The new superintendent is making some good progress in bringing our equipment back to good working order,” added Allein.
As far as outsourcing grave digging at one point the cemetery board was considering it, but the cost would be about $9,000 to $10,000 per year.
“That would not be a good use of taxpayers’ money to outsource to somebody else besides the cemetery,” explained Allein. “So, we are going to outsource as needed for example, if the superintendent goes on vacation or if the tractor breaks down.”
As far as raising the rate for digging a grave it is governed by the state and once a year it increases by six to eight percent, however, the cemetery board can raise the purchase price for a plot, but they need to remain competitive with other cemeteries. The average cost for a plot is about $675, depending on the location, at the cemetery.
“We, as a board, are attempting to ‘get over the hump’ of our present financial status,” commented Allein. “For many years, the board did not raise the cost of grave site and now we are trying to overcome that wrong.”
The cemetery does have a permanent maintenance fund, which is state mandated, of $100,000, but they cannot use it.
“We can use the interest on it to help with expenses, but the $100,000 cannot be touched,” said Allein.
So, why is it that the town helps out the Lancaster Rural Cemetery, but not others? It is because they are not subsidized by any group aside from the town. Other cemeteries, religious cemeteries such as St. Augustine, and St. Mary’s are subsided by the Catholic Church and the town can’t support a religious entity.
“They receive their own money through their own organization,” explained Scott. “We don’t have anything. We run on barebones.”
In regard to comments made about the lawn being like “putting greens” due to excessive mowing, the new superintendent has made the decision to raise the cutting height to compensate for the cost of fuel and allow more time for other duties, but this decision was made not because of the complaints, said Allein.
“What would they rather have?” questioned Scott. “They would be [complaining] if it was knee high and a hay field. You can’t make everyone happy. The board and the superintendent are doing the best they possibly can to not only sell more graves, but also to keep it nice for the families that have land out there. They are the owners of the cemetery.”
“So, when people come in and they have their opinions it is very upsetting to us on the board that are given all these volunteer hours to try to keep it a nice historic site, not only historic, but nice for the families to visit their love ones at the cemetery. Instead of residents beating up the board come and help us,” added Scott.
Lastly, in order to “get over the financial hump” as Allein stated previously, Scott said they are going to do that by hopefully receiving support from Lancaster residents. They would like to hold a donation campaign in the fall, as well as smaller fund-raising events throughout the year. Also, donations are being accepted for good quality used equipment.
“What we really want to do is create an atmosphere for people to come in and really reflect, a peaceful atmosphere, not that it isn’t already, but we need to plant trees along our road to replace the ones that were taken away by the October Storm and we need to scrap and paint the building. Our building needs a new roof, right now it leaks and it is moldy in the office,” said Scott.
Other improvements include paving the roads, fixing the markers on the ground, which the cemetery would see reimburse for up to a certain amount by the state, maintaining and adding to the infant memorial garden and creating a garden for veterans, and purchasing another columbarium.
“These are dreams that will become reality someday,” said Allein.
In the meantime, the board invites anyone to come out to see the cemetery and equipment at anytime. Allein mentioned they are also in the process of designing a brochure to provide to area funeral directors, which some have expressed interest in, to better market the cemetery.
“We would like to alleviate the town from the grant process, but we cannot until we can see ourselves financially viable,” remarked Allein. “We feel that this is possible, but we need the time to work it out.”