Management group says new funds, ideas needed to maintain historic resting place
by Kate Shunney
The resting place for generations of Morgan County’s families is getting to be too much to maintain for the Town of Bath Cemetery Corporation, the group’s head has told county officials.
According to Elizabeth Skinner, Greenway Cemetery is in trouble.
Skinner, the president of the Town of Bath Cemetery Management and Maintenance Inc., approached the Morgan County Commission late last month with a request for money out of the Hotel/Motel fund to help pay for seasonal mowing at the cemetery.
The Morgan County Commission divided up $330,000 in Hotel/Motel funds.
On the list of recipients was the Town of Bath Cemetery group, which received $12,000 to help with mowing and maintenance. The cemetery group had requested $25,000.
Commissioners approved the partial funding after a lengthy discussion.
“This is the first time the town has asked the county for money,” Skinner told commissioners. She said seasonal mowing in the 25-acre Greenway Cemetery costs between $4,000 and $6,000. The total annual budget for the cemetery operation is $50,000, including maintenance, legal fees, insurance, workers compensation, advertisement and CPA fees.
“Revenue sources have basically dried up,” Skinner told county officials. Changes in internment and an increase in cremations have meant that Greenway doesn’t sell as many burial plots as they once did.
The cemetery annexed into the Town of Bath municipal limits more than a decade ago. Bath council used to manage the cemetery operations through a cemetery committee, but that became too burdensome.
Managing Greenway Cemetery involves tracking burial plots, working with families, organizing regular grounds and road maintenance, monitoring the state of monuments, keeping historical records and more.
“We thought the cemetery would be able to generate its own funds,” Skinner said, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.
Funds for maintenance now come from the Bath hotel/motel fund and from a reserve fund.
Commissioner Joel Tuttle asked Skinner why the town owns the cemetery, when many graveyards are privately-owned and run.
“The reason why we have a cemetery is because the town charter states the council had an obligation to bury town residents respectfully,” Skinner said.
“Most of the people there aren’t town residents,” Skinner pointed out. “In the last six years, no town resident has been buried there.”
There are more than 8,000 individuals buried in Greenway Cemetery, with some internments dating back to the late 1800s.
Skinner said the cemetery is roughly 70% full.
There are multiple sections, from the earliest grave sites on a shaded hillside to the east of U.S. 522, to the newer steep and west-facing portion of the cemetery that drops down from Johnsons Mill Road.
Because of the lay of the land, mowing and trimming around headstones and other monuments is time consuming, and poses a bigger labor expense than taking care of a flat or uniform cemetery, Skinner told commissioners. She said workers can’t just hop on a riding mower – they have to hand-trim most sections of the cemetery.
A mausoleum stands at the bottom of the newer section, and is being rehabilitated. That project is expected to be done in two to three months. The Morgan County Commission contributed $30,000 for that upgrade.
“We’re going to have to come up with ways to generate funds,” Skinner told commissioners.
“I just don’t believe families who have been here generation after generation could handle it if we told them to mow graves themselves,” she said.
“How are you going to come up with revenue of $46,000 per year for the next 100 years?” asked Commissioner Tuttle.
“I don’t know,” Skinner said.
“The cemetery has to be maintained. Families are saying, ‘I don’t want to bury our dead there because of maintenance issues’,” Skinner said. “We’re hoping to restore confidence in people.”
Commissioner Bill Clark suggested the town seek the help of Region 9 Development and Planning Corporation to find grants or other needed funding.
Skinner said she is looking for new people who want to bring ideas and energy to the Town of Bath Cemetery Management and Maintenance Inc.
Council members Skinner, Rebecca MacLeod and Tom Hall are on the town’s cemetery committee, and the board of the management organization includes Skinner and Codi Ford.
Skinner said she wants to establish a full, active board of directors for the management organization to pursue financial solutions.
“We’re trying to generate new interest in the cemetery,” Skinner said.
Anyone with an interest in Greenway Cemetery can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.