Bank told to maintain Hempfield cemetery |
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Renatta Signorini

A bank was ordered by a Westmoreland County judge Monday to continue paying for maintenance of Union Cemetery in Hempfield while legal issues surrounding its future are worked out.

“The trustee’s still on the hook in my book,” said Judge David Regoli, referring to First Commonwealth Bank, which has been responsible for paying maintenance bills since 2009 through a now-depleted trust fund. “I don’t think you can walk away.”

The bank is asking the judge to absolve it of those duties and assign care of the 124-year-old cemetery to the township. A petition filed in Orphans’ Court last month indicated that the trust fund contained $1,101.26.

“There’s no money to pay for these things to be done when they need to be done,” attorney David Strazinsky argued on behalf of the bank.

A hearing on the merits of the petition will be scheduled at a later date. Regoli ordered that Strazinsky and Hempfield solicitor Rachel Yantos formulate a plan to notify descendants of those buried at the cemetery and others who have purchased plots there.

“I have to give them an opportunity to be heard,” Regoli said.

After the hearing, Yantos said the township is willing to take responsibility for maintaining the cemetery, but legal issues surrounding the bank’s duty as trustee must be settled.

“The township wants to proactively resolve this situation,” Yantos told Regoli. “We just need some things to occur first.”

Regoli commended Hempfield officials for being amenable to the situation.

“The township here is stepping up to the plate,” he said.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Sandra Renwand sided with Hempfield.

“There were substantial funds available for mowing and other activities that occur on a cemetery site,” Renwand argued. “It seems to us that there’s a possibility … that the trustee could have brought this to the honorable court’s attention earlier,” before the account was depleted.

According to court filings, Union Cemetery, near Hannastown Golf Club, was incorporated in 1890. First National Bank in Greensburg was appointed its agent in 1937. Since then, various bank successors, including First Commonwealth, have continued the obligations, court records show.

In 2009, the bank successfully petitioned the court to obtain funds for the cemetery’s care in accounts at a few other banks. Since then, the bank has disbursed more than $139,000, mainly for lawn maintenance and grave openings and closings, according to court documents. A November 2009 maintenance contract with a Westmoreland County man paid him $800 each time he mowed the grass.

The most recent maintenance payment was in late July. Several community volunteers mowed and cut high weeds last month.

“I think that it would behoove the (bank) to maintain this property, not let it go into disrepair,” Regoli said.

The majority of income to the cemetery’s trust fund came through investments. After it was appointed trustee, the bank received payment of about $12,000 for grave-opening fees, court filings show. Fewer than 20 burials took place since 2009. The most recent was in late July, according to court papers.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or [email protected].

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