MARENGO – The city will pay the Marengo Cemetery Board a portion of its requested tax levy despite rising police pension costs and financial uncertainty.
The cemetery board oversees cemetery operations, including its employees and maintenance. The organization also coordinates with funeral homes and contractors on locating and preparing burial sites and sells plots to families, among other tasks.
The city previously has included funding for the board in its annual tax levy, but significantly reduced its contribution to $100 two years ago. The board wanted $30,000 in funding reinstated, but council members had concerns about fiscal sustainability, particularly in light of rising police pension costs.
“I can certainly appreciate your request,” Alderman Matt Keenum said. “But we are faced with a much more critical element. I don’t know that I in good conscious could tell Marengo taxpayers that I am going to give more money to the cemetery board when we have this one issue, and I don’t know what else will pop up.”
Cemetery board member Brittany Richardson said the board has been fiscally responsible, which is why it has been able to go without city support, but it’s time to bring back taxpayer funding.
“I realize the board is faced with a difficult decision. But the board isn’t asking to say that the cemetery is more important than x, y or z,” she said. “We are asking for a reinstatement to the tune that we were previously getting. … A little bit of money for the cemetery goes a long way.”
At the city’s last meeting, the Marengo Police Pension Board made its annual levy request. Pension costs have risen by more than $200,000, and the city is grappling with how to meet the request. The state of Illinois requires municipalities to fund pensions at 90 percent by 2040, whereas Marengo is now funded at 28 percent.
“It’s a losing proposition, to say the least,” City Administrator Gary Boden said. “The question is where to come up with $215,000 on a budget when revenue hasn’t grown in coming up on six years.”
The cemetery board requested $30,000, but after debate, council member’s opted to reinstate $10,000 this year with the intention of escalating payments in the next two years. Some council members said they wanted to more closely examine how the board spends its money, and they suggested it raise fees for things such as grave openings or rent.
“I know it’s a lot to ask,” Alderman Nicole DeBoer said. “But if you do a little, and we try to do a little … maybe we won’t get to $30,000, but maybe we can come up with something to help you through.”