New committee could keep local cemeteries alive

New cemetery committee’s transparency will keep local cemeteries from being handed off to the state or shut down

EXETER – To keep local cemeteries from kicking the bucket, Exeter trustees created a cemetery council to provide awareness and transparency on the funding that would come from Measure U if passed.

Exeter Public Cemetery District’s board of trustees recently established a new advisory committee to build transparency between the cemetery and the public, especially in regards to the tax revenue that would be generated if Measure U is passed in the November 2022 elections. Additionally, this committee would act as a representative of residents on how they want to use these funds.

The advisory committee will be crucial to raising awareness for the cemetery’s dire future if the measure isn’t passed. Erica Pine, the certified public accountant for the cemeteries, said they have applications out for those interested in applying, however, they expect a low turnout of applicants. Much of this comes from people not understanding the severity of the situation, according to Pine.

“This $35 a year can change the cemetery in Farmersville completely and give it a new life,” Pine said. “It can maintain the Exeter cemetery in perpetuity.”

The district sought voter approval of Measure U in June, which if passed would have created a flat tax fee of $35 annually to residents living within the district, which is only $3 per month. This would have been effective July 1, however since it was not passed, the measure is going back on the ballot this November. The Exeter Cemetery District oversees Exeter Cemetery, Deep Creek Cemetery in Farmersville and Hamilton Cemetery off Avenue 310 between Exeter and Woodlake.

“We had high hopes in June and it needed 66.6% [approval] and got up to I think 63% approval,” Pine said.

This measure would provide the cemetery enough money to maintain the grounds, but without it, the cemeteries could be shut down due to lack of funding. Measure U needed two-thirds approval to be passed, but fell by 137 votes in June, according to trustee Vicki Riddle. 

The cemetery has endowment funds that will keep them functional as a last resort, but not for long, according to Riddle. If Measure U isn’t passed in November, the cemeteries will not have enough money to operate and will be handed to the state. 

“It would be bare bones [if taken by the state]. It may not even be open to the public,” Riddle said. “We don’t know, it would be unprecedented. [Exeter’s] founding fathers are buried there.”

Measure U will provide the district with an estimated $270,000 per year based on $35 per parcel for about 8,000 pieces of property in the district. This will affect places in Exeter, Farmersville, Lemon Cove, Lindcove, Deep Creek and Yokohl Valley.

When the measure was on June’s ballot, there was an argument against it, primarily challenging the “exorbitant salaries” of cemetery trustees and workers. However, Riddle stated the trustees do everything without compensation, everything from human resources to equipment management.

“There’s this misconception that people that run the cemetery are salaried people, but we don’t get a penny for what we do for the hours that we spend,’” Riddle stated. “It’s basically a love gift to the history of our town.”

The advisory committee will show the public where Measure U funds will go, in addition to holding the cemetery accountable for how the money is used.

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