Bayside Cemetery board president details request for financial help to Potsdam Town Council
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 5:45 am

BY CRAIG FREILICH
North Country This Week

POTSDAM — The Bayside Cemetery Association's board president spoke with the Town Council at their meeting Tuesday, June 11 to answer questions they might have about the cemetery's request for financial help.

In a letter to the council read aloud at last month's meeting, John Omohundro said the cemetery, on the Raquette River upstream of the Maple Street bridges, was falling into financial trouble with rising costs, declining plot sales, and limits on what the association can do with its investment funds.

At the meeting, Omohundro wanted to discuss four topics: Bayside "is struggling but it can survive, if it got a little help soon," he said; they are not asking for a lot of help, and changes in state law make it easier for municipalities to help cemeteries; its main sources of revenue, plot sales, are declining because "casket burials continue to decline and fewer cremations are ending up in cemeteries" as funeral practices in the country are shifting.

His fourth point was that "there are some bright spots," such as a proposal that has been approved in the state Senate that would loosen the rules governing the investment funds, and which awaits action in the Assembly, and the fact that the cemetery is attempting to adapt by designing "a dedicated urn garden of modest prices" and is considering "developing a dedicated green burial ground, which few cemeteries in the county offer."

The more general point was that if the town could help with a few items the association might avoid financial exhaustion and their abandonment of Bayside. If it is abandoned, responsibility for the cemetery falls completely on town government.

Omohundro said the money they owe the endowment is about $116,000, a balance that has been accumulating over the last 20 years.

Town Attorney Frank Cappello, who is also a Bayside board member, explained that cemeteries are "not over-regulated" as far as interest and dividend income are concerned, which can be spent how they see fit. But the law is stricter with an endowment's principal.

But the new proposed law would permit the association to withdraw as much as five percent of the fund per year, where they have been drawing on it at a rate of about two percent until now, Cappello said.

Councilor Judy Rich wondered if there were other cemeteries that might ask for help if they aided Bayside. It is an open question, as Garfield Cemetery could be troubled.

Donations account for about 25% of the cemetery's budget now, Omohumdro said. Councilors thought a "friends-of" group might help with fundraising.

In his letter read at the May meeting, Omohundro suggested some areas where the town could contribute, including paving materials, topsoil, labor in the spring and fall and for storm cleanup, and accounting help with payroll for their four employees and their non-profit tax return.

And he said the cemetery board might consider expanding by one seat, to allow a town representative to contribute to decisions on financial and other policy matters.

Councilor Rose Rivezzi suggested members could meet with Highway Superintendent John Keleher to discuss options before the next meeting.

Councilor Sarah Lister suggested Omohundro come up with an itemized list, "since some things on it might be much more expensive for you than us."

Read our story from last month's meeting here.