West Chester Twp. trustees have banned private and family cemeteries because they don’t want to burden taxpayers if the burial plots were ever abandoned.
Townships in this state are required to maintain public cemeteries — West Chester’s cemetery budget is $263,433 this year — and the trustees were concerned they would be responsible if someone ever abandoned a property that had a family cemetery on it.
“My concern is if those cemeteries become abandoned, they then become the responsibility of the township,” Trustee George Lang said. “I’m trying to avoid a future liability for the taxpayers. That’s purely it.”
Township administrator Judi Boyko told the trustees recently she doesn’t believe they have any situations pending like the one Lang described, and they aren’t going to take an inventory, but an attorney general’s opinion allows the ban so they wanted to give themselves some extra protection.
In 2007, the attorney general’s office decided townships could not ban private cemeteries. The prosecutor in Fairfield County asked the question again in 2014 and the attorney general said townships with limited home rule authority, like West Chester, do have the power.
“A board of trustees of a limited home rule township may enact a resolution prohibiting the burial of human remains in private or family cemeteries within the unincorporated territory of the township provided that the board of township trustees determines the resolution is in the interest of the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare of the public,” the opinion reads. “Relevant factors that a board of township trustees may consider in determining whether to enact such a resolution include, among others, the conservation of safe, underground water resources and the preservation of property values within the township.”
West Chester spokeswoman Barb Wilson said there is only one public cemetery in the township on West Chester Road. She called the legislation “preemptive.”
“We don’t anticipate people would try to take the steps to bury family members in this fashion,” she said. “But because there could be the possibility at some point in time it seemed the most responsible thing to do, to take this preemptive measure.”
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