Cemetery District suffers under failure of 2018 levy

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

An article in the Nov. 15, 2018 Empire Press gave the impression that the Douglas County Cemetery District 2 levy had passed with over 50 percent of the vote. This was incorrect as the levy required a supermajority of 60 percent to pass.

In fact, half a year after the election, cemetery district board members and District Manager Cody Salazar are finding that many locals are unaware that the levy did not pass and that the cemetery district has been scrambling to figure out how to get by on basic property tax levy funds, fees, donations and other minor sources of funding.

The levy requested was a one-year levy that would have increased revenue by $10,000 over the previous three-year levy to bring in $50,000.

Without the passage of the levy, they are going to be operating in 2019 with a total income of $37,535, which represents a significant reduction from the previous year. Of these funds, just $13,750 comes from property taxes.

At the same time, water rates have risen significantly, making the financial situation even more difficult.

The district has reserves totaling almost $70,000, but the board and manager are hesitant to dip into these very much, and are working to keep expenditures to between $40,000 and $45,000 this year.

In order to do this, they will be cutting back on irrigation, maintenance and hours of cemetery employees. They are cutting back wherever they can —including cancelling the designated cemetery phone line service.

They have an irrigation plan in which they will be watering each part of the cemetery for 30 minutes two times per week. In 2018, the cemetery was watered for three days per week for 50 minutes per day, which was a reduction of 10 percent over 2017. They have calculated that if they watered as much as they did in 2018, the bill under the increased water rates would be almost $38,000 — three times the bill last year.

They are looking at ways in which they can get more out of the water they apply through fertilization, mowing techniques and other methods.

The district in 2018 invested money to upgrade lines, put a new mainline to the Catholic cemetery and update the sprinklers, which were decades-old discards from the East Wenatchee cemetery. Some of the sprinklers still have not been updated and they are planning to do this work when they have sufficient funding.

They have plans to put another levy on this year’s general election ballot that would not require a supermajority. This would not be as big a levy as was requested in 2018, but would provide some additional revenue for 2020.

In the meantime, they will be relying on donations for help in landscaping and paying the water bill.

Board member Sandy Stoddard said, “We’re just going to wait and see what happens this year.”

Stoddard and Salazar said that the community will probably notice a difference this year in how the cemetery looks. If the community is fine with a less green and less maintained look then that may be the way things continue. If the community wants the cemetery maintained as it has been in the past then additional support will be needed.

“It’s really about what the community wants,” Stoddard said.

In addition to being in need of funds, the district is in need of another board member. Anyone interested should contact Salazar at 860-8713.

The district manages the Waterville Cemetery and the Waterville Catholic Cemetery as well as five non-irrigated cemeteries. These are the Happy Home Cemetery in Farmer, the St. Paul Lutheran Cemetery in Douglas, the Badger Mountain View Cemetery, the Fletcher Cemetery and the Kummer Cemetery.