The operators of the Cortland Rural Cemetery on Tompkins Street in Cortland are reaching out to local municipalities, churches, and anyone who has an interest in keeping the facility operational. The cemetery is in dire financial condition and faces closure.
Rural Cemetery Board President John Hoeschele appeared before the Cortland County Legislature’s Budget Committee yesterday to talk about the cemetery’s financial problems and requested any assistance the county can provide.
The cemetery which has an annual operating budget of $120 thousand dollars has seen income drop dramatically mostly due to a lack of burials. Meanwhile the costs of labor, fuel, and equipment have continued to rise. When it opened in the 1800’s the Rural Cemetery saw as many as 150 burials a year that number has dwindled to 30 in a good year. Hoeschele says many people are opting to be cremated as an alternative to traditional burials, that is cutting revenue.
With revenue declining and costs rising Hoeschele is now looking at other ways to support the 44 acre facility located in the heart of the city.
Some of Hoeschele’s ideas may seem somewhat unorthodox but, he says the community has to begin reimagining cemeteries in order to keep the facilities functional and vibrant.
Hoeschele wants the community to see the cemetery as more than a place of reverence for the dead; he wants it to be viewed as green open space and a community asset.
Hoeschele says there is currently no law requiring the city to take over the cemetery if it fails; there are laws to that effect for cemeteries in towns and villages. Hoeschele says the reality is that the city would likely have to pick up maintenance if the situation doesn’t turn around.
Hoeschele is also considering working with local history groups to develop the historical assets of the cemetery and tap into the growing heritage tourism market.