Questions arise about Longmire-Davis Cemetery
At the Dallas County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, June 21 in Adel, the Supervisors, County Attorney Wayne Reisetter and Jim Turner, the Adams Township trustee chair discussed the Longmire-Davis Cemetery.
The cemetery in question is located along County Highway P58 southwest of Adel behind a residence. The discussion was in regards to who has authority over the cemetery, although Adams Township has been maintaining it.
Reisetter said that townships can purchase cemeteries and be gifted cemeteries but there is no record of ownership of the Longmire-Davis Cemetery on file in the Dallas County Recorders’ office.
“So that raises some legal questions for whoever is exercising authority over the cemetery,” said Reisetter. “Do they have authority to grant burial rights as an owner of the property?
“And even if they were to assume ownership, and there is an argument that either the township or county could assume ownership, then the question remains how do we know who is buried where?”
Turner said that Adams Township also helps maintain the Panther Creek Cemetery, which is privately owned, through a 28E agreement.
He said that in the Longmire-Davis Cemetery, there were times when the headstones had fallen over and someone who “doesn’t know any better” would pick it up and put it next to a tree and due to the lack of records, they were not sure where in the cemetery to place it.
“I can tell you that happened quite a bit at Longmire,” said Turner. “We did do a restoration, I want to say it was about 10 years ago, and we had trees that were just lined with markers and we had to place them where we thought was the best place to go and one of the reasons why we have chosen not to put any new burials is we have no idea where anybody is buried.”
Reisetter said that they could get into “serious legal trouble” if Adams Township were to grant someone burial rights to a plot that already had someone buried in it. They could have issues with people being upset with them for disturbing a grave and people being upset with them for selling them a plot that was already taken.
“You could be easily caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Reisetter.
Reisetter said that in his opinion, based on the way the law is written, that the county has the responsibility to maintain any pioneer cemetery, which in Iowa is defined as a cemetery with 12 or fewer burials over the last 50 years.
He said that there are two ways that a county can interpret the law, however, with one being that it is the County’s responsibility to maintain the cemetery and not that of the township and the other viewpoint is that the township has responsibility until the County steps in and exercises its authority.
“So it’s really how does the County Board of Supervisors want to work with the boards of trustees,” said Reisetter. “I think there’s a certain amount of pride that comes with the maintenance of the cemeteries within the townships.”
Reisetter said that the County also has a responsibility to maintain cemeteries on private property that aren’t within a city if it is not being maintained. He also suggested that they could leave an avenue in an ordinance for the County to convince the owners to maintain it before stepping in themselves.
“My encouragement is to work with the board and the trustees and raise these concerns and figure out a method where the County could exercise its authority in conjunction with the desires of the other entities, whether it’s a private entity or a township,” said Reisetter.
No action was taken at the meeting. The Supervisors said that they will do more research and bring the topic back up at a later date.