While the fate of the Galena Cemetery is in limbo, some Galena residents are stepping up to the plate to maintain it.
On Sept. 27, an email from Galena resident Jane Jackson was circulated that said:
“We need your help on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 10 a.m. Bring your lawn mowers, trash bag, and weed trimmers to the Galena Cemetery for a community work day. In case you are not aware, Berkshire Township and Galena are not mowing this property. Let’s work together and show our respect to those buried in the Galena Cemetery. Rain date is Saturday, Oct. 24, at 10 a.m. Thank you and please pass this on.”
Earlier this year Berkshire Township trustees informed the village that because the village surrounds the cemetery land, the cemetery would be turned over to the village, citing state law that says once a cemetery is located wholly within a municipality, it becomes the property of that municipality.
Berkshire Township has historically owned and maintained the cemetery, even as the village of Galena grew around it.
Galena has filed a lawsuit over the matter. However, last month Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David Gormley refused to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the township from transferring ownership of Galena Cemetery.
“Galena has never operated a cemetery,” the village wrote in its brief asking for the restraining order. “Galena does not possess any employees, equipment, funds or a license to operate a cemetery. If a plot owner requires burial, Galena will not be in a position to do so. The township abandoning operation of the cemetery before this matter is resolved may result in irreparable harm to the public if a plot owner requires burial and is forced to be interred at another cemetery.”
Galena council members say the earliest burials in Galena Cemetery date to 1810 when it was wholly in Berkshire Township.
Galena Village Solicitor Ken Molnar said there are two issues involved in the dispute: Berkshire Township controls the title to the land, and the cemetery’s burial plot contracts are between individuals and the township.
Molnar has also noted that the village of Galena is part of Berkshire Township, and that Galena residents pay $16,065 in township taxes each year, but they receive no direct services from the township. He also noted that Berkshire Township’s annual cost to maintain Galena Cemetery is $12,000.
However, the township’s view on the matter — that Galena must take responsibility for operating and maintaining the cemetery — 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.
In an Aug. 21 letter from Mark Fowler, an assistant prosecuting attorney in Delaware County, to the village of Galena, the prosecutor’s office reiterated its opinion. Fowler also warned village officials against filing a lawsuit. The prosecutor’s office is representing the township in the dispute.
In August, the village hired the law firm of Frost Brown Todd, which filed the lawsuit on Galena’s behalf.
On Aug. 10, Devore Snyder Funeral Home called Galena Mayor Tom Hopper about an Aug. 12 burial; Hopper referred him to cemetery sexton Larry Buell. Hopper said he called Buell to explain the village would not be handling any burials and that if the township chose to walk away from its responsibilities at the cemetery, that was their problem, not Galena’s, and that the burial plot contracts are between the families and the township, not the village.
On Aug. 14, Galena residents received a postcard from Berkshire trustees, saying they have turned the cemetery to the village even though the title to the property remains in the township’s name.
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 local governments.
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.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093