Great meeting on cemetery


More information, better meetings needed

By Ken Waddel

Neepawa Banner & Press

As meetings go, it was tense. It was also hot, crowded and sometimes short on information. That said, it was a good meeting and most everybody had their say.

The topic was Neepawa’s famous, and beautiful cemetery. More specifically it was about perpetual care, flowers and rising costs. About 120 people crammed their way into the Neepawa Library to review the Town of Neepawa’s plan to revamp how the cemetery is kept up,

The meeting was videotaped and chaired by one of Neepawa’s best chairmen, Dave Bennet.

The venue was too small and that should have been predictable. In hindsight, it should have been held at the Legion Hall. 

The problem at the Neepawa cemetery is that the cost of operations far exceeds the income from the annual sale of plots and interest from the perpetual care trust fund.

Defining perpetual care is a big problem.  At the Neepawa cemetery, there are two definitions. Perpetual care is described in the Manitoba Cemeteries Act with the usual stuff like cutting grass and keeping the place clean and tidy. The second definition is in a 1995 town bylaw, which is reported to be out of date now, that says there will be 15 flowers planted and cared for on every grave that perpetual care has been purchased for. Money has been paid into the perpetual care trust fund and only the interest from that trust fund can be diverted to the care of the graves such as buying flowers along with weeding and watering of the flowers.

The cemetery deficit was $93,200 in 2017 based on expenses of $211,907 and income of $118,707.

Mayor de Groot said at the meeting, “We spend more on the cemetery than we do on recreation.” It would be good to ask the staff to put those figures together in a chart to prove the point as the town grants $85,000 annually to the Yellowhead Centre, runs a summer rec program, the pool and spends a fair amount of money on parks and soccer fields etc. Statements are OK but facts are better to gain perspective.

The meeting got hung up on not only the definition of perpetual care but on the $250,000 that was budgeted and spent replacing the old columbarium which was failing structurally. The budget called for the money to come out of the Perpetual Care Fund which raised a lot of questions among residents. Was it even legal? Was it prudent? Would it be replaced? As it turns out, the fund wasn’t used but that information only came out after heated and persistent questioning by the people at the meeting. As it turns out, there was a town surplus at the end of the year and the surplus was used to fund the columbarium instead of the trust fund. That was not well communicated and should have been.

Having been involved with 100s of meetings in my 50-year career, I spotted a few things that came around to bite the mayor, councilors and staff. While the meeting was well chaired and the information was very good, it should not have been the mayor who tried to carry the whole load. One person can’t always remember every detail and that became self-evident as the meeting wore on. Mayor de Groot either didn’t have all the information about the reserve fund or he had forgotten some details. The second problem was the room was way too crowded.  As a matter of being polite and allowing others to take up the inadequate number of chairs, the staff chose to stand at the back in a side room where hearing the proceedings was less than ideal and they weren’t near the front where they should have been to offer information. That was a big mistake as the town’s best resource, the staff, were almost entirely out of the loop for the whole meeting. They should have been at the table at the front was available to answer questions, especially about money and rules.

The town is looking at a way to vastly modify perpetual care over three years. Most people were skeptical that can happen that fast and even more skeptical that it will close the deficit on the cemetery operations.

The town plans to update their proposals with the ideas presented at the meeting. It is going to take at least one more public meeting with much stronger staff involvement in the presentation to get the job done. The physical layout of the meeting has to change, the amount of information has to increase. The emotions have to be held in check a bit more.

Over the years, new ideas to make the cemetery operations easier and less labour intensive have often been cast aside. Suggestions such as phased-in automatic watering, organic mulching, physical mulching pads and gradually phasing in the use of perennial flowers have been ignored as far as I know. Few, if any real facts and costs have been presented regarding new methods.

Losing $93,000 on a cemetery is a concern for sure but in an $8.4 million operating budget and a $4.9 million utility budget, perhaps it is a relatively manageable item.

Perhaps town council and staff should do more than what they have normally been doing for housing. Neepawa quite likely needs 200 units of family housing. If that were to come about, and each unit generated $2,000 in municipal taxes it would come to $400,000 each year forever. Perhaps that would indeed generate income so we could invest more in the living so we can afford to keep up the town and the cemetery. Growth is the key to Neepawa’s future and the growth pressure is there. We just need to respond to it.

So let’s have more good meetings with a better set up and with more information and study more facts. Let’s get on with all the opportunities we have been offered around here. I think the people, whose memories we honour in the cemetery would be pleased if we did.