Thursday, November 23, 2023

Proposed cemetery rules questioned by trustee

A proposed new cemetery ordinance prompted discussion at the Oct. 24 meeting of the Sumpter Township Board of Trustees.

The Rawsonville Cemetery is undergoing massive renovations and upgrades using funding from the American Recovery Program Act (ARPA). As part of that effort, board members authorized a review and update of the current township cemetery ordinance. During the study session preceding the meeting, Deputy Clerk Karen Armatis explained that the proposed changes to the new ordinance followed the guidelines of the Michigan Townships Association and that attorneys from that organization had reviewed the language and provisions.

Trustee Matt Oddy, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Supervisor Tim Bowman, said he felt more discussion regarding some of the proposed changes was advisable. He explained that his interpretation of what he read nearly eliminated the input or control of the board of trustees and put control and regulation of the cemetery solely in the office of the clerk.

Armatis explained that the clerk was, by law, the record keeper of the township and therefore needed to maintain the records of which plots at the cemetery were filled, sold or vacant. The board members wouldn't have that information, she said, only the clerk's office would have those records.

She added that she and Finance Director Scott Holtz had learned about a significant number of changes in state laws concerning cemeteries and many of them were somewhat surprising. She noted that violation of some these could prove “a big liability for the township.” As an example, she said, despite receiving a certificate detailing the identity of the intended occupant of plots, people have interred one family member on top of another. When other family members discovered the situation, Armatis explained, it caused legal jeopardy for the township where the situation occurred. “There have been many problems,” she added.

She said, too, that Michigan is a “no vault” state and that even green interments without a casket are allowed.

Oddy reiterated that his interpretation of the proposed new ordinance left him with questions, and he was asking for a meeting with Armatis, Holtz and the committee to better understand the changes. “I just think some discussion is warranted,” he said. He said one of his concerns was that the new ordinance would allow the clerk to determine the number of plots a family could purchase which could result in future problems.

“This was researched, it was not just a group of people sitting around saying we should do this or we should do that,” Armatis explained. 

“There is a lot of information that people don't know, that's why it is in this ordinance.”

Oddy said he was aware that Armatis and Holtz attended classes regarding the laws and regulations of cemeteries and that “there is a lot that we don't know. We need to catch up with you guys. We don't have the knowledge, you do,” Oddy said.

Township Manager Tony Burdick said he would send a notice to each board member with the date and time of the next cemetery committee meeting so that the issues in question could be addressed.