Faced with declining revenue and rising expenses, the Woodstock Cemetery’s governing board had no choice but to dissolve and relinquish control to the town. For its part, the town had no choice but to take ownership. It’s the law. But Supervisor Bill McKenna is confident it will work out in the long run.
Signs of trouble have come to the surface for a long time, but things came to a crisis point last September when town officials met with cemetery trustees and some plot owners hoping to reconstitute the Cemetery Association board and come up with solutions.
Losses continued to mount and a final, last-ditch effort to assemble a board failed at a plot owners’ meeting January 6.
“So, we own a cemetery,” McKenna told the Town Board at its January 9 meeting. Per a law enforced by the state Division of Cemeteries, municipalities must take control of cemeteries that are insolvent or have no controlling board.
Former Cemetery Association President Terry Breitenstein said he needed $50,000 to $55,000 to run the operation, a tall order since revenue is only half that amount. Woodstock isn’t the only one in this situation. In the last two and a half years, 167 private cemeteries have failed, Breitenstein said.
The town can do it cheaper through its buying power for equipment and by using employees already on its payroll, McKenna said. “We just bought a truck for $24,000 for the maintenance department. That same truck would cost me $36,000,” he said. Equipment can be purchased on state bid and the town doesn’t pay sales tax, he noted.
The cemetery’s primary sources of income are the sales of plots and $700 for each burial. There is no ongoing maintenance fee. The cemetery has a permanent maintenance fund with about $175,000, but regulations made it untouchable by the Cemetery Association for day-to-day operations. The town, however, will have access to that money, in addition to state funding for a one-time “wish list” of maintenance items and equipment. And that list is long and growing.
In September, Breitenstein listed roads in disrepair, aging trees at risk of falling and breaking headstones, and a maintenance shed “held by bailing wire and rusty nails.” The vault used for winter burials until the ground thaws is also deteriorating. The town is lucky in that Shea Cocks, who served as cemetery superintendent for 17 years, is also a Maintenance Department employee.
As it has already done for at least one burial since the Cemetery Association disbanded, the maintenance and highway departments will coordinate equipment and personnel.
McKenna anticipates hiring an additional full-time employee in the Maintenance Department to handle the additional workload but that person will only be needed for the cemetery part of the time. Labor expenses at the cemetery will be offset by the burial and plot fees. “It’s not a huge money-maker, but it can be somewhat self-sufficient,” McKenna said.
Councilman Richard Heppner said that not only must the town take it over, but the cemetery is an integral part of the community. Volunteers have come forward expressing interest in helping update the plot maps, which have become out-of-date, and to refurbish older parts of the cemetery.
Plot owners will be meeting at a date to be determined to share ideas for the future, including possible fundraising to offset perpetual maintenance cost.
In the meantime, anyone with questions or interest in purchasing a plot should contact the supervisor’s office at (845) 679-2113, ext. 17 or email@example.com
Town makes policing policy official, creates Human Rights Committee
While the board indicated this summer it wasn’t quite ready to make Woodstock a sanctuary town, it made longstanding police practices official policy and formed a human rights advisory group.
The Police Department typically does not ask about immigration status at a traffic stop, for example. Instead, officers issue a citation if necessary and send the motorist on their way.
The policing policy, which is essentially the same as one drafted by Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra, was adopted by Woodstock Chief Clayton Keefe. It is used as a training tool for officers and makes longstanding practices transparent to the public.
“I feel proud to live in a community where I think we have been doing the right thing for years,” McKenna said.
The new Human Rights Committee will review and make recommendations to the Town Board on interactions with the public to ensure “town policy affirms the worth and dignity of all who live in or visit our community,” states the resolution forming the committee.
“We have people who are not afraid to come to a meeting and speak their mind. There are just as many who are terrified. This is a sensitive issue,” McKenna said.
To start, the committee will have seven members, though that number can be tweaked at any time. McKenna said he is open to having a rotating member from Family of Woodstock. The only requirement is that potential committee members must be Woodstock residents.