Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Should city save cemetery chapel?

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Greg Peck
May 31, 2013

News that the city is spending more than $80,000 this year to care for Oak Hill Cemetery—and needs much more to shore up Oak Hill’s deteriorating chapel—no doubt stunned many Janesville taxpayers.

As Marcia Nelesen reported last Sunday, a state statute requires local governments to care for abandoned cemeteries. When financial woes caused the Oak Hill Cemetery Association to disband in 2009, the city found this 96-acre expanse of plots plopped in its lap.

Now, city parks crews must mow around 26,000 gravestones, while the clerk’s office hawks gravesite specials.

Taxpayer, open your wallet wider. Except, of course, current property tax levy limits prevent the city from adequately tapping that revenue source, so cemetery care squeezes some other service.

There’s good news and bad news about Oak Hill, however. The upside is that while municipalities often wind up caring for older, full cemeteries after perpetual care funds have been drained, Oak Hill has lots of land for new burials—and the revenue that plot sales might generate.

The bad side is that the cemetery’s Gothic Revival chapel is crumbling. An architectural report put minimal repairs to masonry and windows at $35,000. Full renovations, including making the chapel handicapped accessible, could top $300,000. The report suggests demolition would cost only about $31,000.

What should the city do? We’ll share our perspectives in our editorial Saturday.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook

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