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Greenwood organization invests money in cemetery’s future

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A local cemetery that is more than 130 years old likely will sell out of burial plots in the next 10 to 15 years, and when that happens the organization’s business plan will have to change.

Greenwood Cemetery is a nonprofit organization, overseen by an unpaid board of directors. But it relies heavily on income from plot sales to pay for maintaining the final resting place of some of Greenwood’s earliest residents, including Civil War veterans and the city’s first mayor.

Board members have to plan ahead for losing about 60 percent of the cemetery’s annual income from selling burial plots, board secretary Andy Copeland said. About 1,500 plots are left, depending on how many cremations instead of full burials the cemetery handles, he said. The cemetery sells approximately 100 plots per year, he said. In 2013, 120 were sold.

The board each year invests money for the future. As the cemetery always will need maintenance, investment earnings will be the only new funding it gets, Copeland said. The organization had more than $900,000 invested in 2012 to help cover the costs of caring for the cemetery for years to come.

About $217,000 of the cemetery’s income in 2012 came from selling grave sites and coordinating burials. The other $30,000 came from investments. The cemetery was able to invest $55,000.

The cemetery employs one worker and pays for the grass to be mowed, Copeland said.

If the organization failed to invest and save, then the cemetery eventually would become a burden to taxpayers, like some of the small graveyards in the county that township trustees maintain, he said.

The cemetery will continue to earn money from digging graves long after all of the plots sell and will keep about 40 percent of its income for years to come, superintendent John Armes said.

The cemetery could continue to sell grave sites for just a few more years or several decades to come, depending on sales, which aren’t predictable, he said.

When all the lots are sold, donations will become more important, Copeland said.

The organization spent most of its income on the salary for its one full-time employee and expenses such as mowing between the graves nearly weekly six months out of every year. The cemetery superintendent oversees digging graves, coordinating burials with funeral homes and ensuring foundations for headstones are properly installed.

The organization annually asks for donations from burial plot owners and families who have relatives buried in the cemetery but doesn’t get much of its income that way, Copeland said.

New costs, such as a $2,940 per year Greenwood stormwater fee, are a concern as the cemetery board looks ahead to losing its largest funding source — grave site sales, he said.

The cemetery’s ongoing costs, such as maintaining its parking lot and mowing the grass, will last as long as the cemetery does.

The price for cutting the cemetery’s grass is $3,200 per mowing of the 39 acres, Armes said.

The price is high because cemetery size, and each headstone, large or small, has to be trimmed and mowed around, Copeland said.

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