At last year's Massachusetts Municipal Association convention, Harwich received the Kenneth E. Pickard Municipal Innovation Award for its pet cemetery project. But what seemed like a good idea has escalated into a fiasco. The cemetery commission improperly used funds from its revolving account for site work at the 2.25-acre town-owned parcel on Queen Anne Road, including construction of a gazebo. That $70,000 was for maintenance of existing cemeteries, not the creation of a burial ground devoted solely to pets.
At next week's annual town meeting, voters will be asked to appropriate $131,000 to complete the burial ground and reimburse the general fund for money already spent on the pet cemetery, and to establish a revolving fund for revenue from burials, from which the funds are to come. A petition article seeks to scrap the whole idea and return the land to the jurisdiction of the board of selectmen.
According to Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley, more than 200 names are on a list waiting to have cremated pets buried in the cemetery. Even with such a substantial waiting list, we question whether the burial ground will continue to generate the money necessary to not only maintain it but cover its initial costs. Given that uncertainty and the initial improper use of the cemetery revolving fund, we urge voters to cut their losses and approve the petition article to return the land to the board of selectmen.
People love their pets. So much so that many want a nice, stable place to lay them to rest rather than the traditional backyard, a location that can be lost when a home is sold. But this isn't a job for municipal government. Voters last year rejected $577,950 for an animal crematorium as part of the pet cemetery project, an indication that a majority was not fully behind the project. Some have urged sale of the land, seeing it as a valuable commodity in the limited industrial zone. That's a decision for selectmen, based on markets and other information. It's clear that the prospect of a pet cemetery has lost some of its shine since town meeting approved use of the site in 2016. Last year's MMA award may seem to laud a novel idea, but government officials—that's who makes up the organization—love to lavish praise on themselves for things that are shiny and new, with little thought about their practicality. It's time to lay the pet burial ground to rest once and for all.