Delaware News

Oak Grove Cemetery board is no more; city takes over

Citing continuing financial difficulties, century-old board cedes maintenance of graveyard to Delaware

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Care and maintenance of Oak Grove Cemetery is in the hands of Delaware city leaders after the independent board in charge of the site dissolved last month.

The Oak Grove Cemetery board, which had controlled cemetery maintenance and operations since 1906, voted to dissolve itself Sept. 27, saying the operation had become financially unsustainable.

Board Chairman Roger Van Sickle said rising maintenance costs and the growing number of families opting for cremation made it increasingly hard to balance the cemetery's books.

"Things have really changed in the last six years or so," he said. "It's been a tremendous struggle, and we're not alone. A lot of cemeteries across the country are facing the same struggle."

The board looked for other options, including fundraising, but finally opted to hand the reins to the city of Delaware, effective Nov. 1.

The transfer is part of the original agreement created when the board assumed control of the cemetery, in case of such a financial emergency.

A sharp decrease in burials in the past decade hit the cemetery hard, Van Sickle said. More than 40 percent of families nationwide are choosing to cremate loved ones instead, he said, and many are keeping the remains or spreading them in a special location.

The decline in revenue is coupled with an increase in costs for the cemetery, which is the largest in the county at about 80 acres. Van Sickle said the board faced increases in workers' wages, insurance costs, paving costs and more.

To cope, the board has deferred the cost of replacement equipment, and some workers have accepted wage freezes in recent years.

The site currently has about 65 trees that need to be cut down, but the board couldn't afford it at a rate of $1,000 per tree, Van Sickle said.

He said the board would need to collect about $20,000 to $30,000 more per year "just to keep the cemetery afloat."

Around the county, other cemetery boards have opted to transfer control back to local municipalities in recent years for the same reasons, including cemeteries in Marion, Sunbury and Marysville.

In some ways, Delaware is better-equipped for the job, Van Sickle said. Maintenance operations will be integrated as part of the city's routine maintenance, and it can afford better equipment.

Lee Yoakum, the city's community affairs coordinator, said residents can rest assured the cemetery will be properly cared for.

"The goal is to ensure that Oak Grove remains the type of final resting place that it has been for the last 100 years, and ensure the kind of care and professionalism that people expect," Yoakum said.

But he said an audit is in order to understand how to make the site more financially viable.

City officials will reach out to other communities to discover good practices, he added.

"It's been a long time since we've been in the business," he said. "It's going to take us a little bit of time to figure out."

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