Cemetery district adopts budget, announces capital projects for 2018

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MEEKER | “I did everything I could to make it happen,” said Highland Cemetery manager Mike Jones about the absence of Christmas lights around the flagpole this season. “It wasn’t for lack of effort.”
Last summer the flagpole at the cemetery snapped in half, presumably due to a microburst. The replacement pole is “hurricane strength,” but the flagpole supplier suggested using a smaller flag to keep the weight off the pole and avoid a repeat of the 2016 problem. Adding Christmas lights to the pole is an additional weight.
In the past four 150 foot strings of rope lights were raised around the flagpole using the pole’s cable system.
“Those rope lights are heavy,” Jones said. After spending five hours attempting to raise the lights and attach them to the new, larger pole, Jones said he didn’t want to take the chance on breaking another flagpole.
“If we snap that cable, it’s a big job (to fix.) I’ll figure out something for next year. The Christmas lights are something I really like, too,” he said.
Total projected revenue for 2017 was $592,268. Projected expenditures totaled $358,188.81, leaving $234,079.56 in reserves carrying over to 2018. The beginning fund balance for 2018 is $1.8 million. The board approved the 2018 budget at the meeting.
“I think the employees did a good job seeing the direction the board wanted to go with cutting expenses,” said board chair Joe Conrado.
“I think they’ve done a good job,” echoed board member Melinda Parker. “We’ve had some unexpected expenses and we were able to absorb those. I like the way that we’re trying to give the taxpayers a break. The cemetery still looks nice and we’re trying to do some new things.”
One of the unplanned expenses in 2017 involved replacing a water pump for irrigation.
“We’re now saving $200 a month on pumping costs, and the new pump works better,” Conrado said.
The board approved a “tax holiday” in the collection of the mill levy for the district, providing a temporary property tax credit that reduces district revenue by $100,000. The mill levy reduction for 2018 from 0.867 to 0.696 will provide a savings of $14 for the average $250,000 home, $71 for a $350,000 business commercial real property and $212 in savings for oil and gas production properties.
Cemetery district plans for 2018 include improvements to the cremains garden and the walk-in gate.
“We want to improve it,” said Jones of the cremains garden. “It’s a maintenance trap.” The 2018 budget includes plans to replace the graveled walkways with concrete and extend the grass to the roadways.
“It will be easier to shovel and provide better handicap access, as well as less maintenance,” Jones said. Improvements also include automating the fountain. The estimated cost of the improvements is slightly more than $35,000, to be completed by Memorial Day.
Additional capital improvements include adding concrete sidewalks to the walk-in gate at the cemetery entrance, and potentially adding an automatic opener to the drive-through gate on a timer. Currently, Jones has to drive up to the cemetery twice daily, seven days a week, to unlock and lock the gate.
The board plans to hold a workshop in January to review the terms of its employee handbook, portions of which Conrado and Parker stated they are “uncomfortable” with.