Change rules for cemetery districts | Editorial

The rules for election of water district commissioners are a good example of why we should change the rules for cemetery districts.

Water districts are municipal governments, but the rules for election to district commissions are different than for other junior taxing districts.

Sandy Ryan, candidate for the Cattle Point Water District commission, gave her primary address as Bothell, but she is eligible to serve as a Cattle Point water district commissioner because state law says water commissioners must only own property in the district, not reside there.

If only the Stuart Island Cemetery District had such a requirement: There is not only a perennial shortage of candidates, there’s a shortage of residents. This year, one commissioner was ruled by the elections office as ineligible and her seat vacant after it was discovered she lived in Anacortes. Another commissioner moved to Friday Harbor. Both of them still own property on Stuart Island, but the residency requirement precluded them from eligibility. For the first time since anyone can remember, the San Juan County Council was poised to step in and appoint new commissioners. But then, two residents stepped up and put their names on the ballot.

Cemetery districts do not generate a lot of headlines, but their responsibilities are tremendous. They are supported by property tax; in Stuart Island’s case, a property tax is not collected to support the cemetery, but the district is empowered to levy a tax. Districts buy real estate for the purpose of providing adequate cemetery space. They provide perpetual care for sacred ground, a final resting place. They manage financial resources to fulfill their mission.

Cemetery districts, like all junior taxing districts, must have a pool of candidates for their governing boards. Here’s what we see as solutions: Stuart Island Cemetery District could annex into the San Juan Island Cemetery District, but that could prove a tough sell; Stuart Island property owners would have to pay the tax now levied by San Juan. Or the rules could be changed that would allow commissioners to be property owners in the district, but not necessarily residents. This would be fair, since those same property owners have a vested interest in the cemetery district.

The state Legislature should make the appropriate change to state law.

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