Cemetery board buries 2017 business, elects new leadership

MONTE VISTA—The Monte Vista Cemetery Board of Directors met on Thursday, March 22 for both their annual meeting, as well as their regular monthly business meeting. New officers were elected to the board of directors, and finances and future outlook were discussed.

During the annual meeting, the board reviewed their 2017 financial statement, prepared by Administrators Kay Harmon and Jae Gibson. The largest expenses for the year were under the irrigation category, costing $14,184 for irrigation labor, pump electricity and water rights.

The board elected two more members to their board of directors, with Marvin Davis nominating himself and President Charlie Spielman nominating Mike Schaefer to the board, both being accepted unanimously.

Following the election, the board discussed auditing the finances of the cemetery, with several options considered. The board also discussed seeking lower rates from the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative as well as lower water rates, but member Scott Deacon noted both were unlikely and have been sought before. Thompson noted discounts for water are possible under sub-district two but will be difficult to obtain with the cemetery using 150-160 acre feet of water annually.

Board of directors meeting

As the monthly meeting began, Harmon reviewed the 2018 financials to date, noting there were no funerals in January but several in February, bringing in $1,300 in burial fees and $200 in thawing fees but the costs to the cemetery were minimized through the labor donations of Ellithorpe, Deacon and Laurie McClung, who completed all of the grave openings and closings themselves. Harmon also noted the port-a-potty has been removed, so the board will no longer be charged $97 a month for its rental.

Harmon also noted a January to March comparison from 2017 to 2018 had the cemetery making $2,650 less this year due to the warm winter reducing fees for thawing and more people seeking cremation but waiting until the summer to bury their family members’ cremains. Locally, Hunzeker noted the burial rate is about 50 percent but the national average is shifting to between 60 and 70 percent cremation, and encouraging people not to scatter their loved ones cremains and instead to bury them at a cemetery is an uphill battle everywhere.

The board noted the increase in operating expenses and decrease in income was going to be an issue for the foreseeable future of the cemetery. They discussed alternatives and trends in burials. Ellithorpe noted the cemetery should begin seriously looking are more alternatives to just grass, like native flowers and foliage to save water emphasizing “sustainability and creativity” as essential principles for long-term cemetery growth.  Harmon agreed the model of watering the whole cemetery would not be plausible in the long term.

Hunzeker noted Conejos County has created a cemetery district where all of the cemeteries function based on a tax. The board discussed the possibility of seeking out representatives of the Workers Union Cemetery and the San Luis Valley Cemetery and approaching the Board of County Commissioners for a similar proposal in Rio Grande County.

Election of officers

Election of officers was added to the agenda, even though Spielman had left the meeting due to illness. The other board members continued with the process. Ellithorpe was nominated and named president; Hunzeker became vice-president, and Schaefer is the new joint secretary/treasurer.

Valley Publishing reached out to Spielman on Friday for his comment on his removal as president in his absence. He offered a positive reflection of his time on the board. “I’m surprised and disappointed but not upset. I will resign from the board next [this] week to clear the board for new management; I was planning on doing so by the end of 2018 anyway. I have been a member of the board for 16 years; all board members have historically fought the good fight to keep the cemetery looking good with limited funds to do it. Being on the board has been a rewarding experience and I’ve been pleased to serve.”

“Perhaps one of the happiest occurrences for cemetery was a short while after I was elected to the board I discovered our water well was located a long way away from the legal description of its location. Not only that, a previous board had sold the land on which the well sits and presumably the well also. It took some doing to get an easement to use the well from the new owners and the couple who use that strip to access their property. We had to go to water court to correct the well location, but we got it done. The effort took the better part of a year to accomplish.”

“I’ve been president for about the last three years; during that time we’ve been able to install a new cost-tracking and accounting system, and thanks to some really good grounds maintenance employees as well as Kirk Thompson and Kay Harmon, the cemetery is in the best shape it’s been for some time and people have noticed. I hope the new officers will continue the programs we’ve started, but I’m not optimistic about that.”


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