Editor’s note: This is part of a periodic series that looks at Solano County’s special districts.
FAIRFIELD — Suisun Fairfield Rockville Cemetery District leaders face plenty of decisions as they run two local cemeteries using taxpayers’ money.
Decisions about whether to buy more land. Decisions about how to spend money after seeing big drops in property tax income during the Great Recession. Decisions about how to improve the local public cemeteries.
Cemeteries may be for the dead, but the living keep them operating.
“We provide a service to the community,” district General Manager Doris Goodrich said. “The taxpayers support this cemetery. We’re there to serve them.”
The Suisun Fairfield Rockville Cemetery District is a special district run by a board of trustees appointed by the Solano County Board of Supervisors. The district operates the Suisun Fairfield Cemetery on Union Avenue in Fairfield and the Rockville Cemetery on Rockville Road in rural Suisun Valley.
About 79 to 100 burials take place at the two cemeteries each year. The district’s job is to keep these two cemeteries operating and in good condition.
Revenues in the latest budget total just more than $1 million. Expenditures total $1.3 million, in part because the district is doing road work within the two cemeteries and is using savings.
A good chunk of the revenue comes from property taxes. With the housing market meltdown, the district saw tax money fall from $826,194 in 2009 to $693,648 in 2011, a 16 percent drop. The latest budget calls for taking in $691,000 in taxes, though rising property values could boost it further.
“We lost a lot of tax revenue,” Goodrich said. “What happened is we had to raise the fees for our plots. Whenever the tax raises decreases, we have to increase our services.”
In addition, the number of people being buried at the two local cemeteries dropped with the opening of the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery, she said. The cemetery for veterans opened near Dixon in 2006.
An adult burial at either the Rockville Cemetery or the Suisun Fairfield Cemetery costs $2,048.
The Solano County Auditor-Controller’s Office audits the cemetery district. Recent audits show no reporting issues.
The board of trustees meets monthly, alternating between the offices at the Suisun Fairfield Cemetery and the Rockville Cemetery. Members are James Robinson, Todd Bertani, Wayne Engell, Mary Ellsworth, John Estes, Earl Kilmer and Dot Little.
Trustees had their Jan. 13 meeting around a table in the small Rockville Cemetery office starting at 8:30 a.m., with coffee and doughnuts available. A few members of the public, such as Craig Bryan of Bryan-Braker Funeral Home, came and went over the next two hours.
One item of business was whether to buy land next to the Rockville Cemetery. Goodrich says the cemetery already has about 200 years worth of plots, but the adjacent land would push this out to 400 years.
“We thought this is for sale, we should purchase it now while there’s an opportunity,” Goodrich said.
But the trustees learned at the January meeting that this opportunity appears gone, at least for the present.
There’s no immediate need to buy land to expand the Suisun Fairfield Cemetery. About five acres remain there and Goodrich said this should last 100 years.
Fairfield recently annexed about 2,288 acres near Travis Air Force Base for its next growth frontier. It worked with the district to make provisions for a cemetery there. Fairfield is to give the district 25 acres to 35 acres near its planned Great Park.
The district has 30 years to accept the offer. It’s in no hurry.
“That’s something the board at the time will have to decide, if they actually need the land,” Goodrich said. “It is a large amount of expense to develop property and run a water line and put in roads.”
But, though space might remain at the Rockville and Suisun Fairfield cemeteries, Goodrich noted that the new community Fairfield is building several miles away might want to be served by a cemetery that is closer.
A citizen spoke to trustees at the Jan. 13 meeting about installing a bench in the Rockville Cemetery gazebo, inscribed with the name of a deceased loved one. Trustees subsequently walked out to the gazebo, a hexagon-shaped area of cement with a metal roof and niches for cremates. They tried to figure out where a bench could go without hindering the ceremonies that take place there. They discussed possible prices.
And they discussed ways to lower watering costs at the Suisun Fairfield Cemetery. Irrigation is done with treated city water. Goodrich said the summer watering bill comes to $13,000 to $17,000 every two months.
Hooking into the North Bay Aqueduct to get untreated water for irrigation appeared out. Drilling wells was a possibility.
Members of the board of trustees came to their positions in various ways. Robinson often walks near the Suisun Fairfield Cemetery. One day, the then-manager came out and asked him if he wanted a job serving on the board.
Estes joined the board in about 2007. A county supervisor called him and asked him if he was interested in the position.
Little was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 1998. Her ancestors, the Alford and Barber families, donated land for the cemetery in pioneer days.
“I decided it was my turn to do something for the cemetery, so I came on the board,” she said.
Rockville Cemetery on rural Rockville Road has a history spanning from the days of the covered wagon to the days of hybrid and electric autos. It dates back to the 1850s.
Landy Alford, a wealthy Suisun Valley farmer, in 1856 deeded two acres for $50 to the Methodist Episcopal Church South for a stone chapel and for the cemetery. The Alfords’ 3-year-old daughter died in December 1856 and became among the first buried there.
Historically prominent names can be founded on these aging tombstones. Buried at Rockville Cemetery is Granville Swift, one of the men who held Gen. Mariano Vallejo as a hostage during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. He died in 1876.
“The valley cemetery at Rockville, there are generations of families that are buried there,” Goodrich said. “They want to be in their family plots or close to family.”
The other cemetery, Suisun Fairfield Cemetery on Union Avenue in Fairfield, also has roots back to the 1850s. Among those buried there is Josiah Wing, who founded Suisun City.
Over time, a public cemetery and cemeteries owned by the Masons, Odd Fellows and Catholic Church developed in this area, then on the outskirts of town. So by the 1920s, the area had several cemeteries, none of which had anything to do with special districts and taxpayers’ money.
But the cemeteries hit hard times. A group of Fairfield women tried in vain to raise enough money to hire someone to cut weeds, plant flowers and do other chores at the Fairfield cemetery. During the summer of 1924, citizens circulated a petition to form a cemetery district that could use property tax dollars to do the job.
“Those acquainted here are cognizant of the deplorable condition of the public cemetery and that the district will be formed is not doubted,” the July 3, 1924, Solano Republican reported. The Republican was the Daily Republic’s predecessor.
Three trustees would oversee the district. They would decide the amount of money needed to maintain the cemetery and this would be placed on the tax rolls, the paper said.
On Sept. 2, 1924, the Solano County Board of Supervisors formed what it called the Suisun Fairfield Cemetery District.
That proved to be only a start. On March 2, 1925, the Board of Supervisors created the Rockville Public Cemetery District, again with three trustees.
“There was a request from the farmers and taxpayers here,” Goodrich said.
Meanwhile, the 1856 stone chapel owned by the Methodist Episcopal Church next to Rockville Cemetery had fallen on hard times and needed repairs. In 1929, the Methodist Episcopal Church South deeded it to the Rockville Cemetery District.
In 2007, the Suisun Fairfield and Rockville cemetery districts merged. That allowed them to eliminate the meandering district boundary between them and to combine finances. The late Jim Campi, who became a trustee on the Rockville Cemetery District in 1975 and served as board chairman for 38 years, helped with the merger effort.
Solano County has three other cemetery districts. They are the Vacaville-Elmira, Silveyville and Rio Vista-Montezuma districts.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.