Cemetery care wrongly paid

Mike Akillian certainly has a point.

The Amherst selectman was amazed to find out that taxpayers’ money has been used to fund the entire cost of cemetery maintenance for the past 10 years. It isn’t supposed to be. Cemetery trust funds exist for that purpose.

Selectmen recently discussed a draft of a memorandum of understanding written by a citizens’ committee aimed at resolving “operational and financial discrepancies and disagreements” between the cemetery trustees and the board.

Part of the discussion centered on the money the town spent to cover cemetery maintenance costs. Ten years ago, there was an informal agreement that the town would take over the maintenance expenses, apparently to get the cemetery trustees over some hard times.

Before that, trustees were supposed to be responsible for 80 percent of the annual maintenance costs, yet over the past decade, the entire amount, approximately $40,000 each year, has been coming from the town’s budget.

Clearly someone was remiss, and Akillian spread the blame among the cemetery trustees, selectmen and the Charitable Trust Division of the attorney general’s office, which is supposed to review trusts every three years and apparently has not done that in Amherst in decades.

The memorandum of understanding essentially forgives the oversight, and also says the town will continue to pay at least something for cemetery maintenance. Now that is apparently what the town was supposed to be doing during the past decade, ­­paying for some of the cost of maintenance (the figure 20 percent has been mentioned, although no one seems to know from where that figure came), but not the entire cost.

Cemetery trustees have been in the spotlight for quite some time over the use of Cemetery Fields. That’s been settled. The Merrimack Road property is no longer being used as playing fields and might some day become a cemetery, and the trustees apparently had every legal right to take that action.

But the idea that the town will never see those hundreds of thousands of dollars that taxpayers shouldn’t have paid for cemetery maintenance doesn’t sit well, and it shouldn’t.

There appears to be enough money available to trustees to pay back the town, And although they probably don’t have to, doing so would go a long way toward establishing good will.

Absent that, how about a compromise: For the next 10 years, the town should pay nothing or a nominal amount. Granted, that wouldn’t cover what has already been spent, but it would be something.