The Issue: The Dallas County Board of Supervisors is considering passing a Pioneer Cemetery ordinance, that would allow township trustees to transfer jurisdiction and control of such cemeteries to the County. 

Local Impact: If cemeteries are transferred to County control, they would be in charge of maintaining them. Township trustees can send the control to the Board and they can take control back, but the board cannot send control back to the Township trustees.

The Dallas County Board of Supervisors met in its regular meeting on Tuesday in Adel and had a second reading on an ordinance regarding to the regulation and maintenance of pioneer cemeteries.

In Iowa, a pioneer cemetery is defined as a cemetery that has had fewer than 12 burials in the last 50 years.

Under the proposed ordinance, Township Trustees would be able to give jurisdiction over Pioneer Cemeteries to the Board of Supervisors and the County would then be responsible for maintenance and funding for those cemeteries.

With Adams Township Trustee, Julie Turner, in attendance during the public hearing on Tuesday, come clarifications were made and one change was made to the ordinance text.

While the current Board of Supervisors is not interested in allowing future burials in pioneer cemeteries they will take jurisdiction over in the future, the County could be obligated to allow burials that were pre-ordered and paid for before the County took over.

If a cemetery falls under the definition of a pioneer cemetery, the Board of Trustees in the appropriate township may choose to, or not to surrender jurisdiction of that cemetery to the Board of Supervisors. The Townships then would have the authority to pull a cemetery back off the list of pioneer cemeteries and reclaim jurisdiction, however, the Board of Supervisors may not remove it from the list themselves, even if there are burials that cause that cemetery to no longer be considered a pioneer cemetery.

Dallas County Attorney, Wayne Reisetter said that “the water only flows one way” in this ordinance in regards to the state law. He used Adams Township as an example in his explanation.

“Unless Adams Township has listed the particular cemetery as a pioneer cemetery under this ordinance, then they would maintain jurisdiction and control and they could simply say 'we're not allowing any burials in this, and that's our word because we have jurisdiction and control and we have the authority to make that decision,'” Reisetter said.

If the Board of Trustees decided to give jurisdiction to the County, however, the decision of whether or not to allow burials would be left with the county.

“Next year, if they don't like how you handled that, or for no reason whatsoever, they can simply say 'we're taking it off the list,' and you would no longer have that jurisdiction,” Reisetter said.

Turner stated that a 28E agreement for maintenance and control that could be entered between townships and the County could immensely help such a situation since those policies could be included in the agreement. Reisetter agreed, saying that the 28E agreement could state whether or not any burials could take place in the cemetery in question.

The Township Trustees could also remove a cemetery from the list and exit an agreement if burials are needed in a cemetery later on. They would then reclaim jurisdiction and reopen the cemetery for burials.

Also during the discussion, an incomplete sentence regarding the exercise of jurisdiction and control was corrected. A sentence that previously read “For maintenance and restoration of Pioneer Cemeteries within the County,” was changed to say “The County Board of Supervisors assumes jurisdiction and control of cemeteries identified to them as Pioneer Cemeteries.”

As far as maintenance goes, the ordinance only specifies the minimum requirements, which includes controlling weeds, providing security and protection and optional restoration. The ordinance does not require anything else of the County, including mowing the grass at a cemetery.

“We would expect more than minimum, and certainly the Township Trustees have the authority to say 'look, we don't like the way you're not respecting this cemetery,' or something, and pull it (jurisdiction) back,” Reisetter said.

The second reading of the ordinance passed unanimously and another public hearing and the third reading was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 9:30 a.m. If the third reading passes, the ordinance will go into law and take effect immediately.