Town Council Hears Update on Woodlawn Cemetery

At this week’s meeting of the Franklin Town Council, trustees of the Franklin Cemetery Association, came before the council requesting the town’s help in the dire financial situation facing the Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn Cemetery, the town’s public cemetery, was founded in 1922, and since then has been maintained by the association, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to maintain the cemetery for the benefit of the public.

Richard Jones, trustee of the association since 1972, gave the council an update on the condition and current financial situation of the cemetery in the last six months. The employment of personnel to maintain and upkeep the cemetery grounds is a major expense faced by the association. Jones told the council that keeping the cemetery mowed is very expensive and costs up to $2,500 a month and sometimes as much as $4,500 a month if the grass has grown a lot.

During the three and a half months of winter, the association gets a little reprieve from having to pay for the grass to be mowed, because the grass doesn’t grow during the winter. For example, Jones stated the association has been able to edge by during the past three or four months this past winter with the last mowing occurring in November, none in December, January and February and only one mowing in March.

The association needs up to $30,000 a year to keep the cemetery maintained and made a request to the town to fund the association $10,000 for maintenance of the cemetery. Jones stated they will also be requesting the same help from the Macon County Board of Commissioners. He stated that the association can probably generate the remaining funds needed from the perpetual care funds and the sale of cemetery plots.

“The picture for the Franklin Cemetery Association does not look any better for upcoming the year,” said Jones. “We don’t have any build up of funds now; Our perpetual care funds are invested, but we only get three and half percent on those, and it takes all of that just to get by with the ordinary expenses. At the most, we are going to have about $7,000 in income from the perpetual care fund.”

Adding to the financial problems the association is facing is the number of burial plots being sold in the cemetery is and has been on the decline. Jones stated the cemetery has plenty of plots available for purchase for the future, but people just aren’t purchasing them. According to Jones the association might sell two every so often as sometimes a family will still want to buy a lot, but the income generated form the sale of plots is minimal.

“We are nonprofit and don’t make any money,” added Jim Shope, a trustee of the association for the last 20 years. “We are trustees of something that has been handed down to us since 1922. Woodlawn Cemetery is a public cemetery, and we have been trying to keep it going. Since the last recession in 2007, people began to realize it cost a lot of money to bury their loved ones and moved away from having a grave and casket to cremation and spreading the ashes.”

“The business models that were instituted when the cemetery was formed almost a hundred years don’t work now,” he added. “We have inherited that, and while we don’t want to shuck our responsibility, we do need help, or the cemetery is going to fall into a state of disrepair. I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen.”

Although the town didn’t commit to giving the association any money for the cemetery, Mayor Bob Scott encouraged the trustees to apply for funding through the town’s annual non-funding pool. However, the town funding pool limits requests to $5,000 and due to the volume of requests, the town rarely grants the full amount requested.