Friday, November 5, 2004

Cemetery tax hike rolls to victory

Work on $1 million improvement project slated to commence next spring

Express Staff Writer

Directors of the Ketchum Cemetery District are planning to promptly move ahead with a $1 million improvement project, after district voters this week overwhelmingly endorsed a temporary, two-year property tax increase.

In a special election conducted in conjunction with the Nov. 2 general election, district residents voted by a nearly 2-1 margin to support an increase to .000138 in the district-specific property tax levy. Currently, the district levy is .000009699.

The final vote tally, which was not completed until 2:25 a.m. Wednesday morning, recorded 1,807 ballots in favor of the tax increase and 951 against it. The measure required approval of only a simple majority of voters to pass.

?We are happy that it was such a large decision in our favor,? said Jerry Ann Heaney, a district director who campaigned for the tax hike. ?The board is just happy that the people of the district agree that we should move forward with our improvement plan.?

As a result of the vote, the proposed levy increase will be implemented for two fiscal years, from 2005 to 2007, when it will then revert back to its existing rate.

Under the existing levy rate, the owner of a district property worth $400,000 pays approximately $4 per year to support the district. Under the approved tax rate, the same property owner will pay approximately $55 for each of the two years.

Heaney and other district directors have said the tax hike is essential to the future of the historic Ketchum Cemetery, which is located along Highway 75 immediately north of downtown Ketchum. The site is quickly filling up and could not be expanded or upgraded under the district?s modest five-figure annual budget, they said.

The Ketchum Cemetery was established in the 1880s and is the burial site of Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway.

?It?s been 50 years since we?ve been able to do anything there,? Heaney said. ?Certainly, it is due.?

The district?s budget for the 2003-2004 fiscal year was $33,750. Under state law, the district can only increase its budget 3 percent each fiscal year, limiting its ability to garner revenues.

Revenues from the tax hike will go directly to offset the costs of a $1 million improvement plan the district put forth earlier this year. The levy increase is expected to bring in approximately $500,000 for each of the two years it would be in effect.

The district?s master plan calls for erecting a new administration building and a new amphitheater on the southwest corner of the property, as well as adding numerous new burial sites and a network of public pathways.

Heaney said some of the work could commence next spring, despite the fact that the district will not receive any new tax funds until the end of 2005.

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