FORT SMITH (KFSM)- The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted against raising fees at a city-owned cemetery Tuesday (Jan. 6) night.
The proposal was voted down 5 to 2. The cemetery fee increase had been suggested as a way to add city revenue after the Board of Directors passed a budget last month for 2015 in a 4-3 vote.
“We realize we operated a public cemetery at Oak Cemetery, and we wanted to be able to still offer a more affordable option than some of the other cemeteries in the area,” Jeff Dingman, deputy city administrator said.
Purchasing a space in the Oak Cemetery would have gone from $400 to $550. The vote also includes an alcohol permit fee increase. These, along with other savings measures, would help give raises to city employees.
“We figured in the cost of the city`s employees, and that put strain on the general fund, and so if we can increase revenues to reduce the strain on the general fund, then that helps facilitate the adjustments made on the expense side,” Dingman said.
The budget proposal calls for the city to spend $352,000 on step increases and merit pay raises, along with $293,130 for a 1-percent cost-of-living raise.
“I do think they need a raise in salary,” Collene McFadden, resident said.
City directors Kevin Settle, Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz voted against the budget.
“That is a cemetery for low income families that may not be able to afford burial elsewhere,” Lorenz said.
He thinks residents may take their business to another cemetery if the price increases, but the city's deputy administrator disagrees.
“The cemetery rates, as we have them now, are lacking,” Dingman said. “I mean, a $400 comparable rate might be $750 to buy a space, and so we're about half of what the market rate is.”
According to Settle, the fee increase at Oak Cemetery was settled by Tuesday night's vote and will not come up again.