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Tax increase should not wake the dead

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Voting “yes” on Issue 5D could make for some grateful dead.

A “yes” vote would double the tax rate for the Pine River Cemetery District, from a mill levy of 0.075 to 0.15. But supporters say it’s not much of a hit to the pocketbook, more like a loss in some pocket change.

“It sounds like a lot, but it’s like talking about the difference between $1.50 and $3 (based on a $250,000 house),” said Bud Smith, the lawyer for the Pine River Cemetery District which tends to the Bayfield-area cemetery on County Road 501, about a half mile north of U.S. Highway 160.

The cemetery is in a scenic area overlooking the valley, popular in the winter with cross-country skiers, said Smith, who serves on a three-member board appointed by La Plata County commissioners.

The cemetery has gone through some hard times because of the weak economy and decline in property values.

The assessed value of property in the cemetery district, which is mostly the same as the Bayfield School District except that it does not creep into Archuleta County, has declined from $447 million in 2010 to next year’s projected value of $230 million, a drop of 48 percent.

Its mill levy generated $35,042 in 2010 but would generate only $17,308 in 2014 without an increase.

The cemetery also raises money from the sale of burial lots, but the lot sales are not a stable source of income. All the lots in the original 3.8-acre section of the cemetery have been sold, while about a third of the lots in the newer 5.9-acre section have been sold.

The newer section was purchased in the 1980s, while the original part of the cemetery dates back to 1905.

Because of decline in revenue, the cemetery has started cutting some services because “their costs for labor, gas, lawn mowers and irrigation pumps keep going up,” Smith said.

Smith is afraid the cemetery roads will fall into disrepair.

The mill levy increase is a bargain when compared with other local tax rates, such as 0.307 mills for the Southwestern Water Conservation District, 0.244 mills for the Ignacio-Oxford-Allison Cemetery and 2.5 mills for the Pine River Library District, Smith said.

The increase is worth it to maintain the cemetery, he said.

“For very little expenditure, you can have an asset to the community, whether you decide to be buried there or not,” Smith said.

“It says something about your community if you take care of your deceased and you honor the past. It gives people a sense of community.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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