Despite insistence from Berkshire Township officials that the township would step away from the care and maintenance at Galena Cemetery on Tuesday, business went on as usual Wednesday as the township’s sexton performed a burial.
But township officials say that come Sept. 11, after the end of a 30-day transition period, the village of Galena will be fully responsible for all duties related to the cemetery.
“As of Sept. 11 our transition period is over,” township Trustee Bill Holtry said. “Whatever happens then, I’m assuming we won’t have anything to do with it from that point on.”
Village officials have disputed the ownership of the cemetery since March, when township officials said they had suddenly discovered a section of Ohio law that prevents them from spending taxpayer money on the cemetery because it is wholly located within Galena.
That opinion has been supported by the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office and the Ohio Auditor’s Office, which said in a June letter that township trustees could be held liable and “ordered to pay into the general fund any money spent maintaining and operating” Galena Cemetery — if they don’t relinquish it to Galena.
Mayor Tom Hopper said the village is in need of a more concrete legal opinion.
“They are abandoning the cemetery,” he said. “They do not have an agreement with us. They do not have a court order. Right now we don’t believe we have any legal right to be on there doing anything.”
Hopper said control of the cemetery is a very complex legal issue.
“This is not as cut and dry as they would like everyone to believe,” he said, pointing out that even if ownership of the land were transferred to the village, the township is a party to contracts for burial plots, including his own.
The longtime mayor did not rule out potential legal action to resolve the matter.
“If they cannot give us a good legal justification, it may take that,” he said, although he added that he hopes “cooler heads will prevail.”
Township officials estimate the care and maintenance of the cemetery costs up to $18,000 each year, money that Hopper says the village does not have. The village also lacks the equipment and manpower necessary to maintain the property, officials have said.
The discovery of the section of state law that prevents that township from spending public dollars on the cemetery came amid high tensions between the two entities.
Village officials have been researching a measure that would allow Galena to withdraw from the township, an action taken after two township residents tried to initiate a merger of the two political subdivisions.
The Galena Cemetery, located on Walnut Street, is one of two maintained by the township.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.
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