Minneha Township sues Wichita over cemetery maintenance

The small cemetery sits next door and across the street from two churches inside the Wichita city limits, with graves of people who died in the 1880s and family plots spanning three centuries.

But a Sedgwick County district judge will have to decide who becomes caretaker of the Seltzer Cemetery on Harry just east of 143rd Street East.

Minneha Township, which has a staff of two, has filed a lawsuit to force the city of Wichita to take over maintenance of the graveyard, which sits just half a mile from the Four-Mile Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf said officials have not yet been officially served with the lawsuit, filed June 1, but he received a copy last week from Minneha's lawyer, David Crockett.

"We are looking into the allegations and whether the city should take over maintenance of the cemetery," Rebenstorf said.

Crockett said in the lawsuit that Minneha maintained the cemetery for nearly 81 years, using tax revenue it collected from the area between Greenwich Road, 151st Street East, Kellogg and Harry. During that time, the Minneha Township employed 12 staff members.

But when Wichita annexed most of that area, including the cemetery, Minneha lost most of its tax base. It now has only two employees.

Last year, Crockett contends, Wichita officials refused Minneha's request to take over maintenance of the cemetery.

Despite its age, the cemetery is used. It has graves of those who have died in the past few years and last week fresh flowers dotted the plots. Some of the tombstones are so worn with age it's difficult to read the engravings. Other newer ones sparkle.

Crockett said Minneha has followed what Kansas law requires to turn the cemetery's care over to the city of Wichita.

Records from the secretary of state show that Crockett drew up papers incorporating the Seltzer Cemetery Corp. as a nonprofit on Dec. 22, and then dissolved it on May 6.

The lawsuit said Kansas law states that when a corporation maintaining a cemetery is dissolved, all papers and books "shall be turned over to the city treasurer of the city in which said cemetery is situated."

In late May, Crockett said city officials refused to accept the corporate documents and returned the files to Minneha.

A permanent maintenance fund of $10,000 was set up by the corporation in March and deposited at Rose Hill Bank, according to the lawsuit.

Minneha is asking a judge to determine whether the city should be required to take over care of the cemetery.

The city has 20 days after officially receiving the lawsuit to respond.