The question over whether the city of Wilmore should take over the public cemetery operated by the C.E. Crouse family for more than 50 years is still unresolved.
During a special-called workshop Monday night, council members bantered back and forth on the subject, with one side feeling the city has a moral obligation to take it over, while the other side insisted that it would not be in the city’s best interest fiscally.
There was added pressure to Monday’s workshop, when Mayor Harold Rainwater told the council that he had received an email from the Crouse family indicating that the end of its operational management was imminent.
“The gist of it is they have reached the end and will cease to operate in some capacity one way or the other,” Rainwater said.
The Crouse family first approached the city in January 2012 requesting it take over the cemetery.
The family’s patriarch, C.E. Crouse, is 94 years old, and Rainwater said his family is no longer interested in operating it.
“So for 14 months, they’ve waited for us to respond to this,” the mayor said.
For more than a year, the city has gone back and forth on the issue, searching for ways to afford it.
For many months, councilman Jeff James has been an advocate of establishing a nonprofit foundation whose sole purpose would be to manage the cemetery for the city.
“A foundation would be responsible for raising funds to operate the cemetery, but it would need the funds that currently sit in the perpetual care fund (slightly more than $47,000) to start the nonprofit,” James said.
James also added that the council is waiting on advice from its city attorney, Robert Gullette, regarding legal questions for setting up a foundation.
Rainwater said Asbury Theological Seminary and Asbury University also have expressed a willingness to chip in funds to help out.
“They have not committed a number, but they have committed funding, if I can quote loosely for them,” Rainwater said.
Rainwater said the schools’ contributions would most likely be one-time gifts or donations.
“It was not intended as an operational budget; it was a transitional budget to repair and improve the cemetery,” he said.
Rainwater has also sought help from Jessamine County Judge-Executive Neal Cassity, state Sen. Tom Buford and state Rep. Bob Damron, but those wells are dry, the mayor reported.
“None were optimistic (about) any funding from the state or the county,” he said. “They did not fund any of Nicholasville's transition of Maple Grove Cemetery (in the early 1990s), so they didn't feel it would be appropriate to fund any of Wilmore's.”
So much of Monday’s talk revolved around the morality versus cost-effectiveness of the city taking over the cemetery.
“I don't think the city needs to be owners of the cemetery,” councilman Jim Brumfield said. “We have never run a cemetery, and it's a serious business, and it's not to be taken lightly. We don't have any experience in it, so I would not be in favor of the city itself taking it over.”
Rainwater, who has several family members buried in the cemetery, disagreed.
“In 1977, I took on a water system, and I had no experience with a water system, but it was the thing to do for this town. I was told I bought a white elephant, and there's not one of us who thinks today that we should not be in the water business,” he said. “Twenty years ago, we took on a solid waste system, and we had never operated a solid waste system, nor knew what recycling was. But not one of us would think that was a bad decision we made 20 years ago.”
According to Rainwater, the Crouse family said there are 665 lots remaining in the cemetery, and if those lots are sold at $700 apiece, the revenue would be $465,500.
“I know that's not an endless pot of money to maintain a cemetery, but it's certainly worthy — it's not like you have to take over an entity that has no revenue streams,” Rainwater said.
Many times during the hour-long discussion, the topic boiled down to two main questions — morality versus cost-effectiveness.
“It's almost like it's a cost, so we're not going to do it,” Rainwater said. “Tell me one thing we do in this town that is profitable.”
James pointed out that a foundation route would be most beneficial to the city because it would buy Wilmore some time to figure things out long term.
James also said he was willing to make a motion during next Monday’s meeting, if his legal questions were answered in time, for the city to assume responsibility for the cemetery and place it under the auspices of a foundation.
“This is the only avenue I see to have any sustainability when Mr. Crouse is completely done with it,” James said.
Because it was a workshop, no action was taken on the matter.