A Colorado bill making nonprofit cemetery boards more transparent and accountable to plot-owners and their families has been blocked by GOP lawmakers. The measure, which GOP lawmakers have blocked from moving forward twice, requires the boards to appoint at least one person who owns some type of grave space. Additionally, plot-owners or designees could attend board meetings as well as review financial and meeting records.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Cokedale, and targets what is known as perpetual-care funds, which cemeteries use to maintain the grounds. McKinley said he decided to sponsor the bill after hearing complaints from people who own plots or have loved ones buried in the Trinidad Catholic Cemetery and the Roselawn Cemetery in Pueblo. Most of their concerns, he said, focused on problems with upkeep at the cemeteries and the boards' reluctance to share financial information about the perpetual-care funds. The money in those funds comes from a percentage of the sale of each grave space.
After unanimously passing out of the local government committee, the cemetery bill was held up by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument. She said some groups had questions about the bill. Those opposing the bill, including cemetery and Catholic groups, are concerned that the bill places unreasonable burdens on cemetery boards and calls for legal safeguards that already are in place.
But it may be more likely that the cemetery boards don’t wish to change the way they do business. The Denver Post reported Sunday that the Trinidad cemetery has dumped headstones and miniature American flags behind its facility, and its board has violated its own by-laws, filed inaccurate reports with the IRS and has members who appear to have conflicts of interest.
Families with loved ones buried in Roselawn's cemetery and mausoleum, report that weeds, dead grass and a gopher infestation have significantly marred the 100-year-old resting place. And there is concern over how the perpetual-care fund money is handled. After pressuring the Roselawn cemetery board in September, the community group Concerned Citizens for Roselawn Cemetery was allowed to inspect a report showing that the fund had lost $400,000. No one was permitted to leave the meeting with the report or obtain any further details, members said. The president of the cemetery board is the father of the cemetery director. The director reports that the perpetual-care fund has plummeted $800,000 or more, leaving it with a balance of $452,159. He said the fund's decline resulted from stock market losses. Additionally, he said, revenues are down because of the economy and because more people are choosing to be cremated.
People should not have to fight to protect the dignity of their deceased loved ones. And the GOP should not fight against more transparency in the handling of community-funded perpetual care funds. Far too many recent stories of bodies being dumped or improperly identified by funeral homes and cemeteries’ to allow an argument against greater accountability by these groups.