County officials discuss rural cemetery maintenance

Some of the lettering on a lone gravestone in Dove Hill Cemetery on Dove Hill Road, near 56th Street is rubbed down most likely by animals. County officials don’t know if anyone is taking care of the rural Kearney cemetery with the one gravestone and one base to a gravestone, but artificial flowers have been left at both sites.

KEARNEY — Buffalo County officials are unsure how many rural cemeteries are in the county and who is taking care of them.

Buffalo County Commissioner Joe Brayton of rural Kearney introduced the issue to the board at its Tuesday meeting.

Right now, Brayton said, some of the 31 known rural cemeteries are being cared for by families and other plots are being taken care of by churches. Brayton said he is concerned about the ones that have been cared for by families.

“So, we don’t know who’s taking care of ’ em, what’s going on. And someday, these people who are doing it now are gonna be gone,” Brayton said.

In an interview with the Hub after the meeting, Deputy County Attorney Andy Hoffmeister said the county is unsure how many rural cemeteries are located in Buffalo County. The 31 cemeteries that the county knows of are from tax-exempt requests during the past 10 years. Several of the caretakers on the list, Hoffmeister pointed out, are deceased.

Tuesday night the Hub visited one of those cemeteries, Dove Hill Cemetery on Dove Hill Road near 56th Street. Tall grass had overtaken the unmarked cemetery where one gravestone and what appeared to be a base to a gravestone remained. The lettering on the gravestone was rubbed illegible, and there was no fence to keep out animals.

“If you don’t keep fences up around rural cemeteries, cattle get in. They rub on them,” Hoffmeister said.

Miriam Brandt is listed as the caretaker but Hoffmeister said Brandt died years ago. It is unknown if anyone now is caring for Dove Hill Cemetery

At the meeting, Hoffmeister said the county’s responsibilities for the rural cemeteries are only when the cemetery has been neglected or abandoned.

According to statute, the county’s limit to pay for upkeep of these cemeteries would be $1,000. It also is difficult for the county to know if a cemetery is abandoned or neglected, Hoffmeister said, unless neighbors come forward to the board.

There also are petition-type rural cemeteries, Hoffmeister said, which are rural cemeteries that can be handed over to cemetery districts. At least 30 adult residents of the district must request the board to transfer the cemetery and it shall be after the county has maintained the cemetery for at least five years. Hoffmeister said this situation is problematic.

“Transfer to a cemetery association could occur, if newly formulated, merged with another existing cemetery association or perhaps reorganized. However, if the cemetery is abandoned, how does an association exist, other than in a name?” he wrote in a memo to the board.

Hoffmeister would like to see the board have power to create cemetery districts, but a better solution he said would be to clean up the language in the statute. Board members said they don’t have power to do this, but Hoffmeister asked board members to go to the National Association of County Commissioners and talk to local legislators about the problem.

Hoffmeister believes there is a moral obligation to take care of the cemeteries.

“It’s marked between the animal and the human being civilized to care for their dead. Animals just leave ‘em. We don’t,” he said.

In other news, the board heard gravel bids from Carl Whitney Sand & Gravel Inc. of Kearney, T & F Sand and Gravel of Elm Creek, Mid-Nebraska Aggregate Inc. of Gibbon, Ed Broadfoot & Sons Sand & Gravel of Kearney and Broadfoot Sand & Gravel of Kearney. The board also heard bids for two bottom dump trailers from RDO Truck Centers of Lincoln, Siouxland Trailer Sales of Pacific Junction, Iowa, NMC CAT of Doniphan and Murphy Tractor of Gibbon. Winners of the bids will be announced at the next board meeting on March 14.

In other matters, the board:

- Went into executive session for four minutes after discussing the County Emergency Action Plan. County Attorney Shawn Eatherton told the board they need to go into executive session immediately to discuss potential litigation;

- Approved permissive tax exemptions for Buffalo County Agricultural Association, Crossroads Center, Riverdale Christian Church, Nebraska AIDS Project, Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust Inc., Crossroads Center and St. George Orthodox Church.

- Approved the purchase of two pickups at a total price of $90,291 for the highway department.

- Witnessed the swearing-in of new Buffalo County Deputy Michael P. Smith.

- Approved the change of the Highway Superintendent’s Department hours from five, eight-hour days to four, 10-hour days, effective March 12-Oct. 5.

erika.pritchard@kearneyhub.com

@erikadpritchard

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