Those who run Brainerd’s Evergreen Cemetery want to change state law stating how they can get their funding.

Minnesota state statute only allows statutory cities or cities of the fourth class — those with a population under 10,000 — to appropriate funds to cemeteries. As Brainerd is a charter city, officials cannot appropriate funds to a public or private cemetery, though they have made small donations to the cemetery association in the past.

With financial hardships over the past few years, association members approached Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, about changing state legislation to allow for more public funding.

With the last session just ending this week, a bill would not be introduced until the 2024 session, but Heintzeman’s staff put together a proposal.

Brainerd City Council members reviewed the bill during their meeting May 15.

The proposal states the governing body of any city of the fourth class, home rule charter or statutory city or town may appropriate funds annually to a public or private cemetery.

Council member Gabe Johnson said he would not support the measure. Because it is unclear whether the cemetery would revert to Brainerd or Crow Wing County if the board were ever to dissolve, Johnson said he didn’t want to make any decisions that would see the city “bailing” out the county if that were the case.

Council President Kelly Bevans told him the legislation would not guarantee funding but would simply give the city the option.

Council member Jeff Czeczok noted the cemetery is in the city limits, so it would be the city’s responsibility. He stated his support for the measure, along with council member Tiffany Stenglein, who said the issue has bigger implications.

“Cities like Brainerd should have the discretion if they choose to support cemeteries,” Stenglein said. “I think it’s bigger than just us and just Evergreen.”

Bevans and council member Kevin Stunek joined Czeczok and Stenglein in their support, with O’Day and Kara Terry opposing the motion of support with Johnson, who said he had more questions to be answered before he could offer up support.

More public lots made available in Evergreen Evergreen Cemetery also was a topic of discussion at the Tuesday, May 23, Crow Wing County Board meeting. The Evergreen Cemetery Association operates Evergreen Cemetery in Brainerd and Memorial Gardens Cemetery in the county’s First Assessment District.

Tim Houle, county administrator, said the Evergreen Cemetery Association identified about 100 unused gravesites that are owned by the county in Evergreen Cemetery in northeast Brainerd.

Evergreen Cemetery was incorporated in Brainerd in 1879 and shortly after that the county purchased gravesites for indigent or poor people.

In 1887, the cemetery association gave the county a discounted price for all the gravesites in Lots 19-55 and 66-70 in Block Two for burials of people without means. In a report to the board Tuesday, Houle noted burials in those gravesites peaked in the 1890s and early 1900s with almost no burials since 1950.

With extremely limited room for new burials in Evergreen, the cemetery association proposed the county reconvey the unused lots back to the cemetery so they could be open for public use and offered for those who want to be buried in Evergreen. In return, the county would get a matching number of those lots for its use in Memorial Gardens, which is off County Highway 3, just north of the Wise Road intersection.

The cemetery association is proposing to use ground penetrating radar of the county’s lots in Evergreen to be sure no one is buried there and so any existing gravesite will not be disturbed.

The county board agreed.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa. or 218-855- 5860. Follow her on Twitter at DispatchTheresa.