It’s shaping up as a hand-to-mouth existence for St. Thomas Cemetery Company.
City council Monday voted to extend the cemetery board of directors a financial life line of sorts by way of a $20,000 operating grant. Combined with the first instalment in April of $30,000, it leaves them $9,000 short of the amount requested during this year’s budget deliberations.
St. Thomas Cemetery Company operates historic West Ave. cemetery and South Park Cemetery south of the city in Central Elgin. It had served notice it would seek to abandon the two burying grounds effective April 30 of this year if the long-standing city grant wasn’t reinstated.
By a 7-1 vote, with Coun. Mark Tinlin in opposition, council agreed to support the cemetery board through reduced levels of funding over time. Council could also consider advancing funds for minor capital replacements and expansion in services if other financial resources are not available at the time.
Over the last decade, the cemetery company has annually received anywhere from $59,000 to $65,000 in operating grants.
The funding report to council from city manager Wendell Graves did not indicate how a yearly amount would be determined in future grant discussions.
The grant supports the non-profit organization’s close to $200,000 budget. The municipality began funding the company in the mid-1980s to avoid a takeover.
Graves advised, “It is apparent that the status quo would not be sustainable even at a funding level of $50,000 from the city.”
One option discussed by council is to seek bids on contracting out maintenance of West Ave. cemetery that dates back to 1850.
An agitated Mayor Heather Jackson said warnings it would cost the city more if it took over operating the sprawling cemetery were nothing short of fear-mongering.
“It hasn’t been proven it would cost more for the city to operate,” she charged.
Coun. Steve Wookey felt all cost-cutting measures haven’t been dealt with yet and he was certain another $30,000 could be trimmed from the operating budget.
Coun. Joan Rymal said the city should focus its attention on West Ave. cemetery only and make it more of a park area.
To which Coun. Jeff Kohler reminded council it is South Park cemetery that has been subsidizing West. Ave cemetery for years.
“It is West Ave. that is burning through the money right now,” advised Kohler.
Speaking to the Times-Journal on Tuesday, cemetery manager Lesley Buchanan said “I’m looking at it totally different than they (council) are. Maybe it’s because I’m involved.
“I hope that going forward it won’t be the battering of heads, it will be working together to try and find a common solution. Because ultimately, it’s the taxpayers of the City of St. Thomas who are going to suffer. If we can’t all work together, that’s what’s going to happen.”Follow @ianscityscope