FILER — About a mile west of U.S. 93, wooden crosses and gray headstones bring an atmosphere of peace and solemnity in the cold morning air. A large sign welcomes visitors to Filer Cemetery. But down the dirt road leading from the entrance, a portable toilet and pump house looks out of place.
More than 3,000 people have been laid to rest here over the past century. But the rising demand for cremation means the private cemetery doesn’t get the funds it used to for maintenance.
If all goes according to plan, Filer residents will decide this November whether they would like to create a cemetery maintenance district.
A three-man board of directors runs the nonprofit overseeing Filer Cemetery. Tom Lancaster is both board secretary and cemetery manager. He was also a member of the original group that opened the cemetery in 1908 — the Filer Independent Order of the Odd Fellows Lodge. The lodge disbanded in the mid-90s.
“We just got old and died — except me,” Lancaster said.
The 80-year-old Filer resident has a personal interest in the fate of the cemetery. It’s where many of his family members are buried. But he’d also like to retire. Lancaster is on call at any hour of the day or night.
On Friday, he met with the county commission to discuss his plan for a maintenance district.
“Tom saw the writing on the wall that he can’t do it anymore,” Twin Falls County Commissioner Terry Kramer said. “And he needs to get it a stable funding source. The districts are created for the perpetual maintenance of the cemetery.”
The county owns a section of the cemetery for indigent burials, with the first dating back to 1931. Kramer sees a need to protect the area’s history and prevent the cemetery from ever falling into ruin. And the cemetery manager has a list of improvements he’d like to see happen if the cemetery had the money.
“We just have some needs that have been needing addressed since 1908, and it’s probably time we did this,” Lancaster said.
For one, the cemetery’s roads aren’t paved, and they become muddy after a rainstorm. Its in-ground sprinkler system covers only a portion of the cemetery, and the rest of the grass has to be watered with aluminum irrigation pipes.
Lancaster would also like to see a fence on the west boundary, a scattering area for ashes and an office with public restrooms. He’s in charge of maintenance and records and has been doing all the paperwork out of his home. The revenue is barely enough to keep the cemetery running.
“Right now I’m doing the job that 20 years ago we had three men to do,” he said.
Filer Cemetery Association doesn’t do any fundraising, but relies on grave sales for cemetery operations and maintenance. The cemetery has about 3,100 graves dating back to 1907 (two graves had been there before the Odd Fellows opened it as an official burial place).
“The sale of graves has dropped off in the last 10 years,” Lancaster said.
That’s in no small part because more people are choosing cremation, a less expensive option than burial. About five years ago, Filer Cemetery added a columbarium with marble niches for urns. But those sales can’t supply the same revenue the graves once did. Furthermore, 10 percent of that money goes to an irrevocable trust fund.
The idea is to turn Filer Cemetery into a cemetery that’s owned and paid for by the public. And it should actually decrease the cost to families to use it, Lancaster said.
The maintenance district, as proposed, would cover the same boundaries as the Filer School District. Lancaster already has signatures from owners with a combined property value of more than $1 million – as required by law to get a taxing district on the ballot.
“It’s still kind of in limbo right now,” County Commissioner Jack Johnson said.
With the timeframe required for public notices and hearings, it’s too late to get a cemetery district in the spring election. The Filer Cemetery will also have to find several thousand dollars to pay for a portion of the election.
If voters approved a cemetery district, Lancaster has proposed a modest budget to keep it going without overtaxing residents. He and Kramer feel the cemetery district could be voted on in November.
In the meantime, Lancaster will wait “however long it takes.” Walking among the maze of headstones and monuments, he recalls his family’s history in the Magic Valley, and his own love for the area and its stories.
He points to a large monument in one corner, decorated with several names.
“The story is that the father could see Halley’s Comet in the sky at night, and it frightened him,” Lancaster said. “So he killed his children, his wife and himself.”
He can’t verify the truth to this tale, but he can help a visiting family member find the grave of a loved one. Lancaster has compiled an updated map of all the graves. If you look closely, you’ll see the Lancaster surname crop up on several of the headstones.
“I have a bit of a personal attachment to this joint,” he said.
JEROME — On Thursday, folks got their first view of plans to reconstruct the South Jerome interchange — Exit 168 — on Interstate 84.
The current interchange, constructed in 1966, no longer meets standards, and the South Lincoln Avenue bridge over the interstate is structurally deficient, says Nathan Jerke, project manager with the Idaho Department of Transportation.
The proposed “divided diamond” interchange will be the first of its type in the state, Jerke said.
The innovative design will solve various traffic concerns, ITD spokeswoman Jessica Williams said, including greater separation between on- and off-ramps and frontage roads. The design will provide more roadway for increased vehicle volume and improve traffic flow.
Similar to a roundabout, all traffic from South Lincoln, Golf Course Road and both westbound and eastbound off-ramps will be directed counterclockwise — at 30 mph — in a nearly half-mile circle inside the existing frontage roads, Jerke said. The interchange itself will be just two acres larger than the existing interchange and take up considerably less area than a traditional clover-leaf design.
The project will also include longer on-ramps to allow more distance for vehicles to get up to speed before merging with interstate traffic, plus a dedicated bike path and a sidewalk for pedestrians.
The $20 million project will be funded with both federal and state money, Jerke said.
ITD hired J-U-B Engineers and The Langdon Group to work with local stakeholders to develop the new interchange design.
The interchange is designed to handle traffic through 2040, said Tim Blair, a project engineer with J-U-B. The two new overpasses will accommodate up to four lanes in each direction and will have a 50-year lifespan.
The existing overpass will stay in place during construction of the new interchange to keep traffic flowing as usual, Jerke said. The overpass will come down when the interchange is complete. Construction is expected to begin in 2020 and will take 18 months from start to finish.
For information contact Jerke at 208-886-7809 or email@example.com. Additional information is available at www.southjeromeinterchange.com.
BOISE — A sales tax exemption bill inspired by a Twin Falls medical clinic will move to the Senate floor.
HB 513 would provide a sales tax exemption for free and charitable medical clinics across the state, including the Wellness Tree Community Clinic in Twin Falls. Such clinics, which serve low-income, often-uninsured patients, are not currently exempt from paying the state’s sales tax — but some other medical institutions, such as hospitals, are.
This is Rep. Clark Kauffman’s second time around trying to change that; a similar bill last year failed to make it through the Senate. HB 513 passed 42-27 in the House last week.
The Filer Republican said he initially brought last year’s bill after speaking with Arne Walker, executive director of the Wellness Tree Community Clinic.
"It seemed odd that they were having to pay sales tax," Kauffman said. "This is something I was passionate about and thought needed correcting."
In a testimony before the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee Thursday, Walker talked about the financial challenges of running a free clinic, noting the Twin Falls clinic’s dependence on volunteers to keep running smoothly.
“Free clinics across the state are a vital resource for the state and for the communities,” Walker said. “Obtaining a sales tax exemption for these clinics will allow them to use the money that they’ve raised for products or supplies and put it into buying products and supplies for these patients.”
There are 10 free medical clinics in Idaho, with others located in the Boise area and in northern and eastern Idaho. While the clinics vary in their offerings, the Wellness Tree Community Clinic offers basic medical care, dental care, physical therapy, vision care, health education and other services to indigent patients.
Committee member Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said the exclusion of free clinics from the existing law on tax exemptions for medical institutions seemed “almost like an oversight.”
Walker said he agreed.
“I do think it is ironic that the organizations that do the most with the least are still charged sales tax when all the large hospitals, which make millions of dollars in income and high wages, are exempt from paying sales tax,” Walker said.
Exempting free clinics from paying sales taxes would cost just under $11,000 per year.
The committee voted near-unanimously to send the bill to the Senate floor, with the only no vote coming from Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton.