It’s like eternal seat-saving – the buying up of cemetery plots – and families that lived together tend to like to lie together. In some cemeteries, a few steps left, right, back and forward can take one through the better part of a family’s tree.
The Town of Clayton gets it but thinks things have gotten out of control. The town currently has 44 plots in its three cemeteries where owners are years behind on their payments. Now the town is trying to collect owed money or free up spoken-for spaces.
“We currently have people who buy many, many lots, and don’t just buy them in a time of need,” said Ann Game, the town’s customer service director.
Clayton owns and operates the downtown City Cemetery, Maplewood Cemetery off of U.S. 70 Business and Forest Hills Cemetery off of Little Creek Church Road. Plots go for $1,000 and can be purchased in any quantity, with one paid off at the time of purchase and additional ones paid off one per year.
Some buyers, Game said, have signed contracts for as many as 12 or 16 plots but have fallen behind on payments. The town has spent five years determining who still owes money on plots and intends to collect the payments or release the plots.
Earlier this year, Game sent out 79 collection letters: 35 people responded by catching up on their payments, paying in full or getting on a payment plan. Another 18 letters were returned as undeliverable, and 26 didn’t write back.
Game says the town has a total of 81 unpaid plots representing a $50,695 hole in the town’s books. Most contracts were signed within the last three or four years, but some date back to 2005 and 2009.
“When we say they’re past due, they’re not a month behind, they’re years behind,” said interim town manager Nancy Medlin.
A proposed change in policy would aim to set things right.
“What would happen, any plots paid in full they could use, but any not paid in full would go back into the group to be sold again, even if we couldn’t contact them,” Medlin said.
To get back on track, Game proposes setting a Feb. 1, 2017, deadline for outstanding accounts. She also recommended the town council change its policy so that residents pay for one plot when signing a contract and pay for all other lots by the next year.
“If we don’t clean this up, this will continue to be an issue,” Game said.
The town would terminate contracts after the February date, or whatever date the council agreed to, and any paid money would be forfeited.
That didn’t sit right with a few councilmen, particularly in cases where residents might have paid for some of their plots but have since died and are buried elsewhere.
“If you have someone who’s paid a portion and passed away and obviously not using that plot, I would be inclined to, if (the family) chooses not to use that lot, I’d like to see that the money gets reimbursed,” Councilman Michael Grannis said. “For me, that’s kind of a no-brainer.”
The town intends to send additional letters to those it hasn’t heard back from and to do more extensive searches for those whose letters came came back undeliverable. Game acknowledged that some of those people have likely passed away. Reimbursing families for unused lots would require an amendment to the town’s ordinance, but there seemed to be support for that on the council.
“We’ve tried to be really respectful of families that want multiple plots, to have their family buried together,” Medlin said. “We’ve really exhausted every avenue we know of to collect on these lots before we invoke the ordinance. We really don’t want to do that, but at some point, and we’re at that point, we need to either invoke the ordinance and take them back or just decide to get out of the cemetery.”
The council directed town staff to research how many plots have been paid for but remain unused. Game said that could take several months to figure out.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson