Waukesha Cemetery Commission will send out RFPs to review cemetery operations

Published on: 9/2/2014

City Administrator Ed Henschel said the city's cemetery, Prairie Home Cemetery, has never had an independent study done on its operations.

That will soon change as the Waukesha Cemetery Commission will send out a Request for Proposal to retain a professional cemetery management consultant to conduct a study of its cemetery operations.

The cemetery, which is owned by the city, will pay for the study through an endowment fund, city administrator Ed Henschel said. 

The study, Henschel said, will cost more than $13,000.

In an 8-6 vote, the council authorized the commission to send out RFPs at its meeting Tuesday night.

"I don't think you'll get any answers until you do an independent third-party analysis," Henschel said of the cemetery.

After a firm is found by the commission, which consists of two council members and citizens, the company will review the cemetery's operations, including investment accounts, operating costs, revenue sources and pricing practices, potential revenue sources, sales and other accounting practices. 

Henschel said the commission wasn't obligated to get the council's approval but did so as a courtesy. 

"It's always a political hot potato," Henschel said regarding the cemetery's financials. 

It certainly has been over the last few years.

A couple years ago, Alderman Eric Payne made a referral that the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department oversee the cemetery. Nothing came of that request.

During the budget process last year, Henschel said in a memo to the Common Council that his goal is to have the cemetery self-sufficient by 2016.

"The goal of that (plan) is to somehow whittle it so the cemetery would not receive general fund support," City of Waukesha Finance Director Richard Abbott said last year.

The Common Council also took $33,000 out of the cemetery's budget last year — $18,000 in advertising and $15,000 for consulting.

Alderman Andy Reiland said maintaining the goal of having the cemetery self-sufficient is what the council should be focused on.

"We’ve made some great strides in getting the cemetery self-sufficient," Reiland said. "I think it's important for us to get some outside input that (will) get us that final push so that the cemetery is self-sufficient and not pulling tax dollars out of our operating budget."

The cemetery received $112,000 in 2014 from the city.

Alderwoman Joan Francoeur said she was in favor of having an outside company come in because the city will get information from people "who don't have a personal agenda."

Alderman Aaron Perry, however, said he felt the city was going about the process "backwards" and that it's "embarrassing" that the city hasn't seen the cemetery's plan.

After longtime cemetery manager Dave Brenner retired earlier this summer, Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings made a referral to have a task force be created with a goal of researching and developing an action plan for the cemetery.

Included in that was to look at finding alternative solutions to lifting the city's ordinance on selling headstones.

Cummings, however, has since withdrawn that request after there were concerns from members of the Common Council.  

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Alderman Cory Payne made a referral to Mayor Shawn Reilly to have a forum where cemetery professionals, members of the Common Council, the Cemetery Commission and other city staff could discuss the cemetery as a whole.

In other cemetery news, the Common Council approved a cemetery-sponsored pet walk fundraiser that will be used as an alternate source of revenue.

Prairie Home Cemetery is located at 605 S. Prairie Ave.