Newton seeks cemetery levy for third time

NEWTON – For the third time, the township will be running a half-mill levy on the upcoming ballot in hopes of digging its cemetery fund out of an about $64,000 deficit with which they ended 2013.

The levy would cost about $17.50 annually for a $100,000 property owner and would bring in about $63,000 for maintenance of the cemeteries. The levy is part of the township’s plan to remove themselves from a state of fiscal caution, in which they were placed by the auditor of state in October 2012.

“We’ve been working with (local government services) on our fiscal caution since 2012, trying to ease the cemetery deficit,” Trustee Bob Page said. “Without the levy, we can’t erase the deficit.”

The township is responsible for the upkeep of seven cemeteries that have fallen into their jurisdiction over the past 200 years. The township’s first controlled cemetery, Newton Falls East, was donated to the trustees in 1817. By 1940, through a series of churches abandoning cemeteries, more land donations, and one purchase, the township was in control of six cemeteries.

In 2006, the township took on the St. Michael’s Cemetery when the church could no longer afford its maintenance. By law the township is required to mow the cemeteries twice each year – a minimum to which the trustees have said they do not want to resort.

“We have to keep our cemeteries in good condition, mowed and attractive, to honor the military veterans,” Page said.

Fiscal Officer Susan Montgomery said over the last two years, fees for burials and cemetery lot prices have been increased by nearly 29 percent, but it is not near enough to cover basic maintenance, especially, she noted, when some of the older cemeteries are already full.

“The half-mill levy request on the May primary ballot is considered the most equitable and fair way to fund the maintenance of the cemeteries, and remains the only viable option to increase revenues for maintaining the community’s cemeteries besides additional increases in fees,” she wrote in an email. “Additional fee increases are not preferred, would substantially affect a handful of residents, and would provide only a portion of necessary revenues.”

In 2013, only $8,100 was generated through lot sales, while much of the revenue, about $35,000, was offset by labor costs for burials and adding foundations. Other costs are supplemented from the general fund, which is partly what resulted in the township falling into fiscal caution.

Township officials are hoping the third time around will be enough to swing approximately three percent of votes that held them back on the levy’s passage in the last two elections.

“It is hoped that our community will recognize the need and send the message that they want the cemeteries to be maintained at current levels by supporting the levy,” Montgomery said.