Marengo Cemetery Board says city funding cut is unfair punishment

MARENGO – The Marengo City Council is unfairly punishing the board that manages the city cemetery after aldermen drastically cut its funding and never told the board about it, the treasurer said.

George Bauman, the Marengo Cemetery Board treasurer, said the board will have to use its savings to navigate a projected $46,500 deficit in the city’s upcoming 2015-16 budget.

The Cemetery Board deficit deepened after aldermen earlier this fall decided to cut $30,000 in property taxes from the cemetery fund, leaving a minimal $100 in the budget line-item.

The drastic cut punishes the cemetery board, which tries to limit spending and save when possible, Bauman said.

“We feel the city has a responsibility to fund the cemetery. It is the city’s cemetery,” he said. “We feel the board should not be penalized for being efficient in past years.”

Bauman recently approached aldermen about the cut and the nonexistent communication that came with it, asking the council to restore the $30,000 in property taxes. The cut comes after the cemetery board operated with a $13,000 last year, Bauman said.

But citywide budgetary constraints means the cut has to remain at least for this year, aldermen said.

“We should revisit it next year and make sure we have dialogue with the Cemetery Board before we start this discussion again,” alderman Todd Hall said.

Even with declining home values, the city relies heavily on property taxes to support its main operating fund, since a limited commercial sector hampers other city revenues, City Administrator Gary Boden said.

Before setting its property tax levy earlier this fall, the council decided to put most of the Cemetery Board’s $30,000 toward the city’s police pensions.

Like many municipalities, Marengo has decided to put more property taxes toward its unfunded pension obligations, as a way to meet suggested funding levels and a state mandate.

“We have limitations on our revenues,” Boden said. “We don’t have a choice here.”

The Cemetery Board also receives income from lot sales and grave site openings, but the board has seen demand for grave sites subside in recent years, Bauman said. He warned the board will struggle to operate with continued cuts from the council.

The city cemetery generally is bounded by Jackson Street to the north; Grace Street to the east and Prairie Street to the south.

“Sooner or later, if we operate at a deficit, we will run out of money. I would like not to see all those years of saving go away,” Bauman said. “We worked hard to put it there. I would like to keep it there.”

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