Crum Confronts Criticisms Over Hartman Cemetery Funds


Sharilyn Crum, CPA, an accountant for the past nine years for the East Prowers Cemetery District, defended her service in that capacity before the Prowers County Commissioners and several Hartman residents this past Thursday, November 10. Accompanied by her attorney, Don Steerman, Crum presented the commissioners with outlined financial accounts she’s kept for the District dating back to 1994, as well as an account history for the Hartman Donation Fund from 2003 to the end of October, 2011.

With several members of the Hartman community present, Crum stated she felt she had been maligned by some community members and in some media with allegations of poor financial record keeping and the performance of several board members. In a prepared statement, Crum said, “…I am calling for this Board of County Commissioners to appoint an impartial, independent accountant to review the evidence I have provided to you today, along with the entire financial records of the district.” Crum also invited the commissioners to either review the most current financial records she brought to the Thursday meeting, or spend time in her office going over the documentation. It was pointed out that an audit would not be warranted as the annual budget of the District is $32,000 and falls under a minimum cap of $50,000 for which an audit exemption is allowed. Crum said that at this point, the board, over a course of several years, had managed to generate a surplus fund in excess of $40,000.

There was some concern over the use of a donation account for the Holly Cemetery which was initiated in 1998 by Valley Memorial Funeral Director, Gene Millbrand, now a county commissioner. It was called the Holly Cemetery Improvement Fund, and had an initial deposit of $148. Millbrand stated he had limited connection with the fund after that and was not even listed as a check signer at the bank for the fund.

But the fund statements from Colorado East Bank and Trust to the District Board had the fund tagged as a donation fund. In 2003, according to Crum, the District Board took $100 out of the Holly Donations fund and established a Hartman Cemetery Improvement Fund and from that point, $370 had been contributed, but no funds were drawn from it. She said the funds have been segregated since that time. Crum added that there has been $10,000 worth of improvements to the Hartman Cemetery using funds from the East Prowers Cemetery District account. The breakdown she said was from 2009, on the building on the property for $4,600, electric work in 2010 for $1,987 and in 2011, $3,405 to get the defunct well running again. The Holly Cemetery spent $ 13,000 in improvements in the last three years. She added that the board members have accrued a reserve of $40,000 over the past years from the $32,000 annual mill levy earmarked for the operation of all five cemeteries in the East Prowers District.

Several Hartman citizens responded that they had not stated the money had disappeared, they only asked where it was and who had responsibility from the board for writing checks on the account.

The discussion switched from finance to board membership and representation. Crum told the gathering that situations at the Hartman cemetery won’t be corrected until a new board has been appointed following the pending interviews of candidates by the county commissioners.

County Commissioner Henry Schnabel stated that the new board will have to be appointed following interview by the commissions, who will be very careful about, “Who we put on to serve as a district board that operates to keep the cemeteries as best they can, and have all the issues brought to us and addressed to everyone’s satisfaction.” He added, “We are going to stay on top of this issue to see that everything is done right, and that we be kept informed of developments and that the new by-laws are set and followed.”

Schnabel was addressing one of the main problems regarding how the cemeteries are operated and maintained. What might be a part of the problem is that recommendations made in 1962 for the establishment of a cemetery governing body were not specifically addressed and may not be relevant today. Crum agreed, saying they should cover employee responsibility, a job or work description, establish a fee schedule for morticians so documentation is standard and procedures are no longer at the discretion of a caretaker.

Commissioner Schnabel added that the new board must address the burial plot situation to prevent any future mix ups, and that information should be very public and not improperly stored. Gene Millbrand told the gathering that human error is the cause for the wrong persons in burial plots, but there have only been a handful of those occasions in his 27 years in the county. Tammi Burns, cemetery board member, said some records were lost in a fire and from the flood of 1965. There was thought the by-laws had been stored in a bank safe deposit box, but there is a question of its contents. No one has a key to it, and bank records show it was last looked at in 2007. It most likely will have to be drilled open. It was determined that the new board will post announcements of future public meetings at the Hartman post office. There had been criticism that announcements of meetings had not been advertised regularly in the past. The District Board had also been criticized because the well used to water the cemetery had been in disrepair and had not been used for several years because of the high mineral content in the water. The well had hard water and had been staining the headstones from the sprinkler system. Millbrand has been emphatic that he had suggested the water not be used, especially on the headstones, but never specifically ordered anyone on the board to stop watering the grounds. Millbrand asked about the most recent water analysis, and Burns stated that it would take about two more weeks for a complete review. She had received results on one bacteria test which was not successful, because of too much chlorine, alkali and iron content. Commissioner Joe Marble said he had been in talks with water board members and the county would be able to dedicate two shares of the county’s LAWMA water shares to the board for use to offset non-consumptive use of the well water. The wells used by the Hartman and Holly cemeteries have not been registered with the state, but plans are to have that changed in the future. Holly has better water from their well than Hartman’s which is less than 150 feet deep. The county owns 50 shares and can opt to hold out two from annual bidding to dedicate to the cemetery as a means of replenishing the water taken out of agricultural use for a year.

Related Articles:
Hartman Residents Fed Up with Cemetery Conditions
Changes Underway at Hartman Cemetery

(Editor’s Note): November 14, 2011 iss the deadline for applications for qualified citizens to apply to the East Prowers Cemetery Board.  To date those submitting their applications are: Joel Kalma, Frances Simmons and Clifford Boxley.

By Russ Baldwin



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