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Verndale city-owned cemetery buried in debt, says council

Although we all have to do it sometime, it appears that far too few people in Verndale are willing to pay the piper -- at least for the moment.

The cemetery there is in the unique position of being owned by the city, which must pay for all of the upkeep costs. So far, it’s approximately $23,000 in the red, and with private donations lacking, city officials are looking for ways to keep the red ink in the cemetery fund from coming back to haunt them later on.

“The problem is that we haven’t been collecting enough funds for the past few years,” Verndale Mayor Raye Ludovissie said. “We don’t have enough money in the account. When we do get funds or money in the account, it’s never enough.”

City Clerk/Treasurer Barbara Holmes said the only ways the cemetery generates its own revenue is when people purchase a plot for $125, or provide private donations. About $700 has been donated so far this year, she said, but it costs $625 to simply mow the cemetery grass, which the city has already had to do twice in 2013 because of the frequent rain this spring.

The city has paid for necessary cemetery expenditures like mowing by transferring money from other parts of the budget, but taking away resources that could be used elsewhere isn’t an ideal situation for the city to be in, Ludovissie said.

“We don’t want to transfer (funds),” he said. “It’s like feeding an animal -- you just keep feeding, feeding, feeding...”

Ludovissie said other options the city has considered to recover the cemetery's losses include adding charges to the water/sewer bill paid by each citizen of Verndale.  He and other city officials said that while it was theoretically possible for the city to just sell the cemetery to a non-government entity-- a church, for example-- the logistical challenges involved means that selling the cemetery is out of the question.

    “I think that would be a huge thing,” City Council Member Ardith Carr said. ”Who would take it on?“

Ludovissie sardonically pointed out another impractical aspect of selling the place.

“Can you imagine putting something like that in the paper? ‘Cemetery for sale’” he said.