More than one year after a state agency took charge of Linwood Cemetery, the question of who will ultimately manage the Dubuque cemetery is not settled.
Last summer, Linwood’s board of directors entered into receivership with the Iowa Insurance Division, giving the state permission to take ownership of the cemetery’s operations.
The agency has since managed the cemetery and provided financial assistance as Linwood employees continue daily operations. However, state involvement will not be permanent.
“The Iowa Insurance Division does not manage cemeteries permanently,” said Dennis Britson, part-time receivership consultant for the Iowa Insurance Division. “We are a temporary solution, even if temporary means several years.”
Dennis Avenarius, president of Linwood’s board of directors, said there are several options for the cemetery’s eventual management.
“(The City of Dubuque) could provide financial support, or they could take it over wholly and provide all the care and maintenance for it,” Avenarius said.
Britson said Linwood also could merge with another cemetery, or the two townships in which it lies, Dubuque and Julien townships, could assume responsibility. The Iowa Insurance Division is working with the state attorney general’s office to address the question.
“The cemetery may or may not transition to government operations,” he said. “However, there’s a financial need right now, and we’re hoping that local government might help with some of the financial issues in the near term.”
Linwood’s financial difficulties stem largely from an industrywide trend towards cremations rather than traditional burials, which decreases a cemetery’s revenue.
“Instead of a $900 traditional burial, you have a $450 cremation burial, and you can get two cremations on one plot, so people are only buying one plot,” Avenarius said. “That cuts your revenue in half, but your maintenance (costs) keep going steady because you still need to cut the grass.”
In the past year, Linwood has benefited from state financial assistance toward repairs and equipment upgrades to help the cemetery operate more efficiently.
Jeff Paar, cemetery manager, said the state agency helped Linwood buy two new lawn mowers, along with a pickup truck and snowplow attachment. The state also assisted with replacement of the roof, air conditioning and heating units for the cemetery’s chapel, all of which were more than 30 years old.
“All that’s really helped to make our job easier so that we’re able to get maintenance work done,” he said.
He added, “Obviously, the state won’t continue to buy things for us forever... At some point, it has to transition somewhere.”
As of now, officials do not know when that might be.
Paar said a Clinton, Iowa, cemetery which recently entered into receivership took about 2.5 years to navigate the process.
“I think we’re looking at least another 15 months,” he said.