Change in state law aims to help Kern River Valley's cemetery district

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- The cemetery district near Lake Isabella has worked for more than a year to get a special bill passed. They say it will bring more support for the small district, and serve the community. On Wednesday, the governor approved the tailor-made law.

"We're such a small community, and it's just not right to see people not able to come here," Kern River Valley Cemetery District general manager Randy Kyte said.

The district runs the seven-acre cemetery off Burlando Road near Kernville. Kyte says they needed an exception to the general state law governing cemetery districts. That's why he worked hard on passage of Senate Bill 159.

"The law states that if you don't have a loved one buried in a cemetery district, then you can't be buried here," Kyte explained. "And, if you don't have property in a district, you can't be buried here." But, SB 159 specifically says the KRV Cemetery District can bury "nonresidents."

"This bill would authorize the Kern River Valley Cemetery District in Kern County to use their cemeteries for up to a total of 400 interments each, not to exceed 40 interments each per calendar years, to inter nonresidents and non-property taxpayers, if specified conditions are met," the bill reads.

Overall, special districts in the state get funds from property taxes, and that's the reason for the general rule on burial of only residents in district cemeteries. But Kyte says there's been no increase in property tax funding in the KRV cemetery district since it was set up in the mid-1950s.

"We haven't had an increase," he said. "We're only getting like $5 a parcel, and so that's really hurt us bad."

But, Kyte thinks the restriction on residents only, is also hurting the entire community. "Sad to say, we've had to turn away a lot of people because the law's the law," he said. He's convinced there are people who grew up in the Kern River Valley, or used to live there, but have since moved away.

And, the cemetery district thinks they are unique enough to require the new exception to the general law.

"It's unique to us because of the seclusion where we're at," Kyte argues. "The closest place for burial is like Bakersfield, which is almost 50 miles away. And there are no other cemeteries around us."

The small district has been grappling with financial hurdles for several years. In 2004, they lost their main water supply when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided it had too much arsenic. The KRV district was forced to switch to well water.

"Now, we have a commercial pump for the well," Kyte said. He adds it costs a lot to run the pump, and sometimes in the summer that can boost power bills to over $1,000 a month.

That's why Kyte has also started a campaign to raise money for a solar power system. "Help improve your next Gated Community" reads a big sign by the cemetery gate. He hopes that gets some attention, and prompts donations for the solar power project. Kyte says the system they want will cost about $58,000. He'd love to raise the money by August.

But, getting the new law is a good step forward. "I want to thank State Senator Jean Fuller," Kyte said. She carried the bill for the district. Kyte himself had gone to Sacramento twice to testify for the measure, and he's relieved it did pass.

"It's a great accomplishment for our community," Kyte told Eyewitness News. "And I think it's going to help a lot of the people that love this valley and support it."

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