Crime & Courts

Judge: Wichita not responsible for cemetery upkeep

The city of Wichita does not have to take over maintenance of a small cemetery, more than a century old, near the eastern edge of town.

That was the decision by Sedgwick County District Judge Mark Vining, who Friday morning dismissed a lawsuit seeking to force Wichita to take over as caretaker for the Seltzer Cemetery on Harry just east of 143rd Street East.

Vining ruled Minneha Township had no legal grounds to pursue the lawsuit, and the city had no duty to take over maintenance.

Minneha has 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 township had employed as many as 12 staff members.

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

"This is not an asset. It's a liability," Crockett told the judge. "That's why the city is here. They don't want it. When we had the tax base to do it, we did it. But we don't anymore, so we can't. This is why the city is upset."

Brian McLeod, a deputy city attorney, said Kansas law allows the township to raise tax revenue to help support the cemetery from property in third-class cities, such as Eastborough, which is located within Minneha's boundaries. Eastborough has more than 750 residents with a family median income of more than $150,000 a year, according to Census figures.

"The bottom line is Minneha remains entitled to the cemetery," McLeod said.

The cemetery holds the remains of people who died as long ago as the late 1800s. Although the cemetery no longer sells plots, Crockett said families still hold deeds to previously purchased plots.

Crockett said afterward that he had not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

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