One of our first blog posts was about Delaware’s legislative effort to tackle the state’s growing problems with cemetery oversight. After a recent public hearing before the legislative study committee, it doesn’t sound like the committee is any closer to a consensus on what the state’s solution should be. Sen. Margaret Rose Henry may be getting a feel for the competing interests at play. To her credit, she promises to persevere by having the committee members bring their respective bills to the full committee so that the attorneys can help. It is reassuring to see democracy at work.
A Capital University Law Review article by C. Allen Shaffer provides one explanation of the competing interests that surface over an abandoned cemetery. This article may not be accurate for some abandoned cemeteries, but it does accurately depict the 3 opposing interests that frequently arise in these circumstances (see page 493): a developer, a group adverse to additional taxation required for the maintenance and a group that favors historic preservation of the cemetery.
I would agree with Mr. Shaffer that abandoned cemeteries often exist in jurisdictions that lack the tax base to support the funding required for basic maintenance of the graves. Accordingly when state legislatures resort to granting municipalities the authority to levy taxes for cemetery maintenance, few local politicians are willing to take responsibility and levy such taxes. But this is exactly what the Missouri legislature did.
Mr. Shaffer advocates that legislatures authorize court appointed receivers that can pursue adversarial proceedings to determine which interests should prevail. But one has to question whether such an approach can work if the cemetery’s location does not provide an economic interest that would ensure the resources necessary to litigate the issues.