PLAINFIELD — The chairman of the Cemetery Commission in Plainfield says it will have deeper problems to address this year than scrutiny of its cemetery fund.
Last year, the commission was in flux with three members resigning, an audit being conducted on the fund after years of the town asking for one, and the town clerk taking over the management of the account. Three townspeople — Ed Hutchinson, James Jemele and David Montgomery — were appointed to the commission in July to replace Dale Bartlett, Joanne Edwards and Charlene Ibey.
Athalie Blackburn also is appointed to the commission. Her term runs out in 2014, but she is not expected to contribute for the remainder of her term due to illness. An open seat also remains on the commission.
The commission’s cemetery fund, which totaled more than $363,000 in June, had become a topic of debate in recent years with some residents wanting to use it to pay down taxes and others wanting a closer eye kept on the money.
The fund is for maintenance of the town’s graveyard, as well as future acquisitions of land once the existing graveyard reaches capacity. The money cannot be used for taxes as it is separate from the general fund.
Hutchinson, the commission’s chairman, said the panel, which oversees the town’s cemetery, has seen a decrease in income from burials because more people are being cremated rather than buried.
“The fees used for opening and closing graves don’t generate enough income to cover expenses right now,” he said.
Short of drastically raising those fees, which Hutchinson predicts will cause more people to opt for cremation, he’s not sure what the commission will do about the financial shortfall.
The commission also will be looking for a new sexton, or gravedigger, come spring. Bartlett, who had served on the commission for 40 years, had been sexton, but Hutchinson said Bartlett is ready to be done with the town’s cemetery.
Another issue the commission will have to address is the water supply for the cemetery. Hutchinson said Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the water system the cemetery was using and the town has since been hooking on to Plainfield Hardware for water. He said there is a spring near the cemetery that could be used, but to drill a well will cost around $20,000.
The cemetery needs water, Hutchinson said, because people want to be buried where there are flowers that are watered normally. Not having water could cause even fewer people to be buried in the cemetery, further exacerbating the financial situation.
Who will be making these decisions is unknown. All three commissioners appointed in July are able to serve only until Town Meeting Day in March. If they want to continue serving, they will have to submit a petition with 10 signatures to put their names on the ballot.
Hutchinson said he joined the commission reluctantly. He said his wife told him after the other commissioners resigned, “Somebody has to (serve on the commission). You don’t do squat for your community, so go do it.”
While Hutchinson does plan to submit his name for election in March, he said if there are three other names on the ballot for the commission, he will gladly concede the position.
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