Grand jury praises cemetery district

The Madera County grand jury has released its first report of 2014-15, generally praising the staff and operations of the Madera Cemetery District.

After reviewing documents, interviewing employees and board members, and visiting cemetery’s throughout the county, the report, released Dec. 18, praised the district for well maintained and attractive properties, and knowledgeable, professional, and personable employees who are helpful to the public.

Documents examined during the inquiry included prior year audits, annual financial report for 2013-14, 2014-15 budget, policies and procedures manual, employee handbook, and the schedule of fees charged for services.

The district operates on about a $2 million annual budget, which is derived from a combination of property taxes and fees for services. The report said the district is in good fiscal condition with adequate income and reserves.

The district operates five cemeteries in the county including Oakhill in Oakhurst, North Fork, Raymond, and Arbor Vitae and Calvary in Madera. The district performs 450 - 500 burials per year.

The district has 19 full and part-time employees, under the direction of District Manager Belva Bare. Bare has been with the district for nearly 20 years, serving as district manager the past two years.

The grand just report listed the following additional findings:

• Each cemetery has equipment and tools necessary to provide interments and to maintain the facilities. Shop facilities are neat, and the equipment is well maintained.

• With one exception at the North Fork Cemetery, appropriate safety equipment and personal protective gear is available at each cemetery.

• The district is in compliance with the basic requirements of the Brown Act.

• The capacity of the Hillview Water Company system in Oakhurst impacts the ability of the cemetery to water the cemetery property and to stay within watering restrictions.

Oakhill expansion

The district has planned for future expansion of Oakhill Cemetry acquiring 11 acres adjacent to the cemetery. The district purchased the property for $720,000 from Steve Kuljis, a principal with Sacks, Inc., of Southern California.

In 2006, Bare and the board of trustees began actively looking for additional property in Oakhurst, since it was apparent that it would soon be at capacity. In the 2008-09, the grand jury recommended that the trustees and LAFCO work together with Madera County to expand the Oakhill Cemetery due to inadequate size of the cemetery and the population growth in Oakhurst.

In April of 2010, the Madera Cemetery District purchased 18.96 acres on West Lake Drive, a few miles away from the Oakhill Cemetery, but in 2014, the property adjacent to the cemetery became available. The trustees and Bare began realizing the cost savings to the cemetery district with the adjoing property. The Westlake property would require complete development with all infrastructures. The property adjacent to Oakhill Cemetery would only require development of burial areas.

“The additional 11 acres acquired in Oakhurst has many benefits to the community including adding more than 100 years of additional use to the exiting cemetery,” Bare said. “We are very excited about this purchase and will be setting a master plan for development. It will be additional green space in the middle of town and will reduce the fire hazard in this area.”

Bare said with the purchase of the 11 acres, the cost of operation will be greatly reduced comparing it to developing property in a separate location.

“The development of this property will be developed over time and Oakhurst will be even more proud of its Cemetery on the Hill,” Bare said.

The Oakhill Cemetery was established in 1875. On May 3, 1955, Madera County turned over the cemetery to Madera Cemetery District. Oakhill Cemetery is comprised of seven acres. Oakhill Cemetery is filled with historical information along with special burial locations and is a California Historical Point of Interest, with visitors from all over the world that stop on their way to Yosemite.

The grand jury report concludes with the following recommendations:

• Install an emergency eyewash and shower at the North Fork Cemetery.

• When a trustee vacancy occurs, publicly advertise the vacancy and collect applications for the board of supervisors consideration.

• Scan all paper records so they can be stored electronically.

• Install computers at each cemetery (except Raymond) so that all burial records can be stored electronically and searched from any cemetery.

• Investigate the feasibility of constructing a well at the Oakhill Cemetery in conjunction with developing the newly acquired land adjacent to the cemetery.

• Continue the practices that have made the Madera Cemetery District an efficient provider of interment services for residents of the district.

The district is governed by a five member Board of Trustees appointed by the Madera County Board of Supervisors for four year terms. Current members are retired school administrator Chairperson Candy Talley of Madera, Oakhurst financial advisor David Nemeth of Oakhurst, North Fork retired business owner Lois Betty, retired Madera businessman Maurice Cappelluti, and retired Madera school administrator Jim Harper.

The district’s mission statement is: To manage the Madera Cemetery District, by providing a wide range of burial options, to handle services in a caring, compassionate manner with the intent to maintain, improve and historically preserve the grounds for the benefit of Madera County residents and their families.

The grand jury acknowledged the time and courtesy of district employees in assisting with the inquiry.