City considers private cemetery request

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, September 28, 2017

On Tuesday, the owners of Nutwood Plantation came before the LaGrange City Council to request a change to city ordinances to allow them to open a private cemetery on their property.

The couple has invested what they estimate to be around $100,000 in renovations to the property and told the council on Tuesday that they believe converting the portions of the property into a high end, private cemetery would help fund the preservation of the Nutwood Plantation home and ensure its future.

“Four years ago, my wife and I purchased the property on the corner of South Davis and Upper Big Springs Road called The Plantation,” Neil Liechty said. “It had been vacant about 10 years, and we set about restoring it.”

The cost of repairs and maintenance are not the only considerations for the couple though. With the repairs, the property value of course went up, and so did the taxes on the property. In 2014 the property tax on the property was $3,999, but this year thanks to the increased value of the property, the property tax was $7,953 not including insurance costs according to information from the Troup County Tax Commissioner’s Office.

Now, Neil and Trish Liechty would like to be able to find a use for that property that will not compromise the beauty and historic significance of the location.

“It is a real special place,” Liechty said. “It has got a feeling about it, so we have been looking around, and we have a desire to put in a real first class cemetery. Something that this town doesn’t have right now at least, and something that could preserve the house and the property for basically in perpetuity, forever and to maintain it and give it back to a different part of the community which we will all face some day.”

The city’s code does not currently allow for private cemeteries unless it is exclusively family members, but the state does allow for private cemeteries if certain conditions are met.

“Currently our code allows public cemeteries and then allows private cemeteries only if they are for family members and relatives and so forth,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “The state of Georgia, through the funeral service board, has a rule that allows private cemeteries though they have to comply with a lot of hoops. They have to have trust funds set up for perpetual care — and so forth and so on — and their (the Liechtys’) request to the council is to consider allowing private cemeteries if they comply with all of the standards that the state of Georgia has set up.”

The city’s code that does not allow private cemeteries has been in place for decades, and the council did agree to review that section of the code. However, there were still some reservations on allowing private cemeteries due to a desire to protect people who buy cemetery plots in this or any future private cemetery that could open if the code is changed.

“I believe that you would do the right thing, but the heartburn that I have is, we have had another private cemetery that has gone through some different sales, and there are people that purchased grave spaces there, that have purchased vaults there and the opening, closing was also purchased,” Councilmember Willie Edmondson said. “They (the cemetery) went through bankruptcy, and they (the families who purchased the spaces) lost all of that and went through some problems. My thing is, I know that you are not going to live forever, and the problem I have is the same thing for this cemetery — bankruptcy possibly if you and your wife are no longer here. That is the problem that I have.”

State regulations require that the property be paid off with no leans on the property and 40 percent of funds taken in by private cemeteries go into a trust until the gravesite is used. The Liechtys did convey plans to follow those requirements if allowed to convert the property into a private cemetery.

The mayor and council asked that city staff review the regulations regarding private cemeteries and return with recommendations at a later date.

The city council will meet again on Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Ave.