Clovesville Cemetery upkeep threatened by lack of funds
By Joanie Merwin
Yes, even cemeteries die; sooner or later all things come to an end. Just as life within a human body deteriorates and eventually dies, ironically so does the final resting place of many humans. That is exactly what is happening to the Clovesville Cemetery – it’s dying and help is needed.
The Clovesville Cemetery costs over $2,000 annually to operate. It currently has $11,000 in the operating account, which means that in roughly five years it will have to be turned over to the Town of Middletown for basic upkeep. Those involved are working to build public awareness regarding the Clovesville Cemetery and for privately-held cemeteries everywhere in hopes of generating contributions from people who care about these special places. The Clovesville Cemetery is a 501.c3 not-for-profit, so all donations are tax deductible.
Most people do not think of a cemetery as a business, but it is. Like any other business, a cemetery has rules and regulations that govern it, operating expenses, income receipts, trust accounts and annual reports. There are elected officers and elected board members who donate time and labor and are advocates for the cemetery.
The New York State Division of Cemeteries allows cemeteries to operate as not-for-profit businesses. In theory, land is sold to plot owners and a portion of the revenue generated from these sales goes into a savings account or is invested in CDs to be put toward the upkeep of the cemetery. Endowment funds are also set up to help generate more revenue toward the growth and long-term care of the cemetery.
Two principal trust funds exist: the perpetual care fund and the permanent maintenance fund. The perpetual care fund consists of contributions by lot owners. The permanent maintenance fund is funded with a portion of current lot sale receipts and $35 from every interment. The important distinction between these two funds is that perpetual care funds are used for the care of individual graves, plots, mausoleums, or columbarium spaces, while permanent maintenance funds are for overall cemetery care. Only the interest from these funds can be used for maintenance; the principal or restricted balance cannot be expended.
The money trail
Many years ago when a person or family purchased a plot of land in the cemetery, a person had the choice of purchasing something called perpetual care, which was an add-on purchase of sorts stating that the cemetery would maintain that plot forever. That has since evolved into a permanent maintenance account, which draws funds from a portion of the sale of lot fees and or burial fees. The interest generated by that account would then be put toward plot maintenance, and similar to the way a retirement fund works, receipts from lot sales and burials are put into the permanent maintenance trust for the day when it no longer receives operating income. Theoretically, when there are no more lots for sale and no more burials, the income from this trust should maintain the cemetery forever; in reality, such longevity is virtually impossible.
There also exists a general fund that is used to pay some of the other expenses of running the cemetery, including insurance, bonding for officers, general supplies, mowing, and a salary for the secretary/treasurer position. Once a cemetery has depleted the general fund, the cemetery is transferred to the town along with the existing permanent maintenance funds. In this scenario, the only responsibility the town has to the cemetery is to mow the land twice a year and to honor any existing deeds.
Mowing is, without a doubt, the largest expense at the cemetery and is a time-consuming job that would need 10 or more people to donate time on a regular basis. Paying someone to mow the cemetery is very costly; the cemetery currently pays $400 for each mowing and can only afford to pay for three mowings. It takes more than 24 hours for one person to mow the cemetery, two people at 12 hours, or three persons at eight hours. In addition, the Division of Cemeteries requires those who maintain cemeteries to carry liability insurance in the event that someone is hurt.
In addition to mowing, there is a lot of other maintenance that the cemetery cannot afford to pay for. There are broken monuments, fences that need fixing, and stone containment walls are falling down. It is heartbreaking to see some of the old stones from the 1800s just lying in heaps.
How can you help?
In less than five years, the Clovesville Cemetery will be out of general funds. If you have friends, family or relatives buried, please respond by donating. It is a wonderful way to show respect to those buried there. Also, when making out your will, consider leaving part of your estate to your burial grounds; you never know what will happen 100 years from now.
Those who would like to contribute are encouraged to send donations to: Clovesville Cemetery Inc, c/o Joan Merwin, 120 Grocholl Road, Fleisch-manns, NY 12430.