SOUTHWEST HARBOR — After asking the town for $3,500 for the last many years to take care of the Mount Height Cemetery, the nonprofit’s board of trustees increased their ask by more than 800 percent for FY21.
The cemetery’s superintendent Amy Young went before the Board of Selectmen to explain why the association is requesting $34,500 at their budget meeting on Jan. 22.
“Even though we’ve been doing it the way we’ve been doing it all along, it’s not working anymore,” Young told the Islander in an interview last week. “We have to start somewhere.”
Selectmen balked at the original requested amount but acknowledged the need for more funding of the cemetery organization, according to Young. At their meeting this week, selectmen approved adding $12,700 into the operational budget for Mount Height Cemetery. That amount will be a separate line item on the warrant for voters to weigh in on at the annual town meeting because it exceeds the $10,000 threshold.
The cemetery was opened in 1902, shortly after the town of Southwest Harbor was established. “It was one of the first things the town of Southwest Harbor did when it became a town,” said Young, noting that the cemetery is not a town-owned property.
While the operating budget for the cemetery is around $25,000 per year, the association has relied on the town’s annual contribution of $3,500, another $15,000, on average, from a resident family trust set up years ago and approximately $750 per year from the combined perpetual care trusts set up by people who have purchased plots.
“Here we are in the 2000s, those tiny trusts don’t generate very much money at all,” said Young.
She explained $750 typically pays the cemetery’s annual water bill, as long as the pipes haven’t leaked during the year.
Young has been doing what she can as superintendent to keep costs down, but too many things have been put off and need attention. “Some things are not done every year,” she said. “They’re done every other year, in an attempt to keep costs down.
“When we sell a plot at the cemetery,” she added. “It’s not a very high amount of money. That money generally gets folded into whatever is happening in the cemetery at the time.”
In addition to seasonal mowing and maintenance, there is a utility shed that needs to be replaced, there is no survey of the entire property and the roads need to be rebuilt with posts and chains to cordon them off.
“It’s been probably 40 years since the whole place was surveyed,” said Young. “That needs to be done.”
And, at some point soon, the water system at the cemetery will need to be replaced. The current system is prone to leaks, which can increase the annual costs for the cemetery.
Those are the items that have been neglected because of lack of funds. That list does not include natural disasters or unexpected costs that come up throughout the year.
“We have to pay for trees that are blown down and need to be cleaned up,” said Young, referring to refuse in the wake of recent rain and windstorms. “We own the road. We own the pathways.
“The plots are owned by the people who buy them,” she added. “The cemetery association’s responsibility is to sell the plots and maintain the cemetery.”
Earlier this winter, when the ground thawed after freezing it created messy, muddy conditions. Young decided to close the dirt roads throughout the cemetery because they were becoming unsafe to traverse. In fact, some people got stuck and needed assistance.
“I get phone calls every single year because I close the cemetery,” said Young. “If everyone just stayed on the pavement, then I could leave the roads open.”
Young has been superintendent since 2015 but began mowing the grass more than 40 years ago as a teenager. At that time, her father Peter Doliver was the cemetery superintendent. And, before him, Young’s grandfather was in charge of taking care of the cemetery.
As far as she knows, the roads were the same ones then as they are today.
“They haven’t been repaired in my memory,” said Young. “There are places where people are driving on plots. They are driving on people’s feet.”
In its inception, the cemetery was four-tenths of an acre large and has grown in the last 100 years. When asked how big it is now, Young can’t be sure.
“I don’t know,” she said. “That’s why we’re having the boundary survey done.”
Rest assured, there is still plenty of room for those wishing to be buried in the cemetery located on Route 102, just out of downtown. “We have enough plot space to last for probably another 100 years,” said Young.
In the budget discussion on Jan. 22, selectmen offered to set up a reserve fund for the cemetery for the remaining amount of $21,800 from the original ask. When selectmen approved the reserve account total at their meeting earlier this week, it did not include a line for the Mount Height Cemetery.