Over the past few years a vigorous discussion has ensued in Grantsville over the use of the city-owned Clark Farm property. One side proposes that the 38 acres of property purchased for about $2 million should be used for the variety of purposes for which it was acquired. The other faction demands that the ground can only be rightfully used for preservation of its historic farm and activities that honor historic traditions.
Five years ago, the City of Grantsville made well-reasoned decisions concerning the city cemetery’s future. The historic Main Street cemetery was essentially full with few plots available for sale. The city budget was in financial stress largely caused by a downturn in the economy.
The city already owned acres of property across the street from the existing cemetery that would allow a natural contiguous expansion of the existing cemetery. That area was north of the Clark Farm buildings. It is a serene location with beautiful vistas away from the street noise that currently hampers reverence at graveside services.
The Grantsville City Council unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed the location. Public comment was sought both informally and formally through the public hearing process over a period of months. The Tooele Transcript Bulletin had a front page story describing the plan. No objections were raised by anyone.
The city’s plan was adopted and cemetery development commenced. Development began by clearing weeds, removing dump trucks of trash and debris, leveling the ground, installing sprinklers, planting grass, surveying burial plots and creating the necessary paperwork. The construction utilized restricted cemetery funds, money that came from an account derived from the past sale of cemetery plots, and its use is restricted by state law to development of new cemetery areas and maintenance of existing cemetery.
The funds expended from that restricted account amounted to about $70,000 plus the cost of maintenance and water.
About three years ago when the city was preparing to sell burial plots, the “Friends of the Clark Farm” (Friends) organization showed up at a Grantsville City Council meeting and in an acrimonious way criticized the council for not informing the public and making foolish, ill-considered decisions about the use of the Clark Farm.
The council allowed a period of six months before selling plots to see what developed. The Friends set about developing a plethora of activities utilizing the part of the Clark Farm property containing the historic buildings and the cemetery lawn. Ironically, it was only the criticized cemetery development that allowed any activities to commence. All of the Friends’ activities have depended on the very lawns derived from the restricted cemetery funds.
While supportive of the activities, the city now has a dilemma: The cemetery must be used as a cemetery or money from the restricted account must be paid back to the fund. Grantville’s financial auditors have previously noted this fact, and it is expected to become a pointed non-conformance in the current audit cycle unless resolved.
To rectify this legal financial violation and restore the restricted fund, the city offered to sell a portion of the Clark Farm to the willing “Friends.” The city can sell the property, but is required to sell it at fair market value. After appraisals, a first offer made was to sell 3.6 acres. The Friends noted that their “donor” was only interested in much larger tracts of ground, perhaps 18 acres. The city offered to sell a larger parcel, but it was soon apparent the previously cited funding source wasn’t actually available. The city and Friends are now attempting a limited sale of 2.2 acres.
While sales terms in general have been agreed to, the necessary funding still seems to be in question. The Friends organized themselves as a small charitable tax-exempt organization in 2014. While this has benefits, it also restricts amounts individual donors may give annually and restricts by source the proportions of revenue received.
Beyond purchasing ground, this lack of income will hamper the Friends’ ability to maintain lawns and pursue preservation/restoration. After three years of activities, less than $10,000 has been accumulated (from the Friends’ financial summary.)
It is not a real problem if the sale can’t be completed. Nothing needs to change. No historic building is in jeopardy, nor have they ever been in danger of demolition despite spurious rumors. But the viability of restoration of some buildings is another matter.
The Friends can still have the same activities. Sale of cemetery lots would begin in a limited way to demonstrate that the cemetery is in fact a cemetery and restricted funds won’t need to be returned.
Appropriate visual barriers in the form of landscaping and ornamental fencing can be instituted to separate the cemetery. Indeed, using the designated cemetery will allow Grantsville to place its departed loved ones in a special place that coming generations will like to visit.
A cemetery will be placed on the Clark Farm (all parties agree.) Ball fields, amphitheaters and other public uses will likely develop. Ultimately, the Clark Farm’s area will provide multiple functions and blessings to Grantsville.
Tripp is a member of the Grantsville City Council.