Board relinquishes control of historic Oxford Cemetery to city

OXFORD — The City of Oxford is set to take over the 167-year-old Oxford Cemetery at the end of the year after the cemetery’s private, non-profit board announced it would relinquish ownership of the grounds after years of deficits.

“Regrettably, the association wasn’t able to continue operating the cemetery based on financial reasons,” Oxford Cemetery Association Treasurer Dennis Deahl said to the Journal-News.

Under Ohio Revised Code, if a private entity is unable to maintain burial grounds, the responsibility of that maintenance and operation then falls on the governmental entity; in this case, it means Oxford’s finance department will take over plot sales while the service department handles upkeep starting in 2023.

Deahl said the 47.2-acre cemetery has been on this trajectory for more than a decade. The board hasn’t been able to generate enough yearly revenue, which has forced the board to dip into reserves in order to meet operating costs.

“When you look at the labor cost, and the equipment cost, then you look at what income is generated through the sale of a single grave, it’s just not a good business model,” Deahl said. “It was inevitable that we would get to this particular date and time, we just didn’t know when.”

Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott said the Oxford Cemetery Board approached the city 12 years ago to inform officials that the board was running deficits and were unsure of how much longer it could operate.

“To make a long story short, they were able to continue operations until this past November,” Elliott said. “They were having continued financial difficulties, and also their cemetery manager was planning to retire at the end of November. For those two reasons, they thought it was the time to basically dissolve and turn the cemetery over to the city.”

Elliott said the cemetery’s accounts showed about $30,000 in losses in 2021, after drawing in around $70,000 and spending $100,000 on operations.

Unlike the Oxford Cemetery Board, Elliott said the city will forgo a full-time cemetery manager, which will significantly reduce operation costs and reduce the city’s losses. But, Elliott said, sometimes losing money on a cemetery is just an aspect of the law.

“You don’t always meet your expenditures by the selling of [cemetery] lots; it’s just one of the responsibilities that cities undergo when they have cemeteries,” Elliott said. “We do our best to see if we can make our revenues equal our expenditures, but typically that’s not the case.”

The Oxford Cemetery, which is located off Oxford-Millville Road, won’t be the city’s first foray into the industry; it already operates Woodside Cemetery — a comparatively much smaller burial ground off of Chestnut Street.

Deahl said the city’s operation of that site makes him confident that the Oxford Cemetery will continue running smoothly, adding, “I think the people who have family members buried there will be pleased with the operation of the cemetery in the years to come.”

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