Montague Selectboard endorses cemetery position; Town Meeting approval still needed

The Old South Cemetery near Montague Center.

The Old South Cemetery near Montague Center. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Highland Cemetery in Montague near Millers Falls.

Highland Cemetery in Montague near Millers Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

The Old South Cemetery near Montague Center.

The Old South Cemetery near Montague Center. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Highland Cemetery in Montague near Millers Falls.

Highland Cemetery in Montague near Millers Falls. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-28-2023 2:08 PM

MONTAGUE — The Selectboard this week unanimously endorsed the idea of easing the Cemetery Commission’s burden by establishing a paid position that handles cemetery care and prepares for burials.

Commissioner Judith Lorei came before the board on Monday to recommend hiring a sexton to work with mourning families and loved ones on a per-burial basis. She explained this would offer some relief to the five-member volunteer commission, which would still be involved in cemetery matters.

“We don’t want to rely exclusively on volunteers for this important work,” Lorei said. “This is a very minimal ask, really.”

Town Administrator Steve Ellis said the position’s creation and funding requires a vote at Annual Town Meeting the first Saturday in May. He explained the position would be established on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, if approved in May.

According to information from the Cemetery Commission, the sexton would be paid $100 per burial. Ellis called this “a very modest sum, frankly.” The compensation would cover the specific burial as well as other responsibilities attended to in collaboration with the Cemetery Commission, such as selling plots, monitoring cemetery conditions and fielding calls from families who have questions about their plot.

The commission proposes adding $2,000 to the fiscal year 2025 operating budget for the position. This would cover up to 20 burials. The commission collects a $100 fee per burial, and this money is deposited in the Cemetery Lot Receipts Reserved for Appropriation account. This fund functions similarly to a reserve fund and is available to support capital and other cemetery costs, subject to a Town Meeting vote.

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There have been an average of 10.3 burials per year over the past 10 years, according to the Cemetery Commission. There were 14 burials in 2022 and there have been eight so far this year.

The duties of the proposed position would include receiving calls from a funeral director or family to be notified of a death, with a date for the burial. Using historic records, a sexton marks the plot for a contractor to dig a grave in the lawn section. This reportedly involves locating the plot using a metal detector, probe and measuring tape. A sexton must also collect and process the burial fee and paperwork from the funeral director or the deceased person’s family.

The approximate time for burial prep is reportedly one to two hours, as is the approximate duration of a burial.

A sexton would also work in collaboration with the Cemetery Commission to sell burial plots, monitor cemeteries for maintenance issues and respond to calls related to the cemeteries.

At Monday’s meeting, Lorei explained the commission oversees town-owned cemeteries. She mentioned Highland Cemetery is the only one actively selling plots. Old South Cemetery no longer has plots for sale, though some have been reserved for the future.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.