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Cemetery Lent $350,000 for Face Lift

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Simi Valley has agreed to lend the Public Cemetery District in the city $350,000 to upgrade its much deteriorated burial grounds, despite protests from two officials who are worried that the money will not be paid back.

Mayor Greg Stratton and Councilwoman Vicky Howard objected to the loan, saying that the cemetery district has failed to come up with a plan to reimburse the city and provide some type of collateral for the loan. The district, governed by a volunteer board of trustees, was formed in 1946 to provide for the operation and maintenance of the cemetery, near Thompson Lane and Royal Avenue.

“What we’re missing here is a business plan,” Stratton said. “To just hand over $350,000 to another agency with no guarantee or even a reasonable thought that we’re going to get these funds back is irresponsible.”

But John Williamson, chairman of the cemetery board, said the five-member panel is facing a financial crisis and did not have the time or the money to come up with a plan to repay the city. Williamson added that if the district did not get the loan, it would have no choice but to disband, forcing the city to take over the century-old cemetery.

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Williamson said the cemetery board, appointed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, has an annual budget of about $30,000 derived from property tax revenue, the sale of grave sites and burial fees. He said the money is not even enough to maintain the cemetery, which has fallen into disrepair over the years, much less make it competitive with a privately owned cemetery nearby.

“We absolutely don’t have the money to function,” Williamson said.

Council members Ann Rock and Bill Davis, both of whom worked closely with the cemetery board to come up with a funding plan, argued that the city had an obligation to provide the money because the cemetery is a valued public resource. They said that the roads and irrigation system at the cemetery are falling apart and that the grounds are not adequately maintained.

“I guess what I’m saying is, let’s give them the opportunity to put together a first-class cemetery that we can be proud of and hope that they can come up with some revenue enhancement to pay for it,” Davis said. “And if they can’t, I don’t think it’s going to destroy the world.”

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Added Rock: “We pride ourselves on being a progressive society. . . . How we treat our dead speaks volumes about the kind of people we are.”

A large portion of the $350,000 will be used to replace crumbling asphalt driveways and curbs with reinforced concrete, to upgrade landscaping and to install an irrigation system and wrought-iron fencing, according to a report by city staff members. Funds also will go toward buying a new tractor for tending the grounds, the report says.


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