Berkshire Township trustees could be subject to findings for recovery if they continue to spend taxpayer dollars on a cemetery they have maintained for more than 200 years.
The Ohio Auditor’s Office, in a June 22 letter sent to the township, said trustees could be “ordered to pay into the general fund any money spent maintaining and operating” Galena Cemetery.
“The duty to operate and maintain the public cemetery in question lies with the village of Galena,” the auditor’s office wrote in the letter. “Because the township has no legal authority to maintain the cemetery in question, further expenditures would not comply with Ohio law.”
Village Administrator Jeanna Burrell, who was provided with the document Wednesday, said she was not prepared to comment because she had not had proper time to review the letter.
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.
Despite concurring opinions now issued by the Ohio Auditor’s Office, the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office and the township’s outside legal counsel, Trustee Bill Holtry expects the dispute to continue.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s over and done with,” he said.
Holtry said it is his goal to transition ownership of the cemetery to the village as smoothly as possible.
“We want to cooperate with Galena and we hope they’ll cooperate with us,” he said. “We want to be cooperative and put together a transition program for them so they can slowly work into it in a reasonable time limit.”
The auditor’s office said it would allow for the township to continue spending taxpayer money on the cemetery to ensure an orderly transition.
“Under the circumstance, it would be entirely unfair to penalize current public officials for carrying on a policy or practice existing for decades,” the letter reads. “Further, it would be appropriate for the township to maintain the cemetery for a reasonable period of time to provide for transition to village care.”
However, it is unclear at what point trustees would be required to reimburse the township’s general fund for public dollars spent for the care and maintenance of the cemetery.
“I don’t know what ‘reasonable’ means and I haven’t got a determination on that,” Holtry said.
Township officials had previously offered to cover half the cost of care and maintenance for the remainder of the year.
Township officials estimate the care and maintenance of the cemetery costs up to $18,000 each year, money that Galena Mayor Tom 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.