State offers Taylor County to operate Abilene Veterans’ Cemetery


Which of the two counties could house the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Abilene — Taylor County, Jones County or both — is unresolved, despite recent state proposals that could cover the costs.

Dr. John Kelley, deputy director of the four Texas veterans cemeteries, met with Taylor County commissioners on Tuesday to gauge interest in a maintenance contract for the property, located at 7457 West Lake Road, with the ‘State aid.

The cemetery is in Jones County.

The commissioners took no action on the proposal.

The state has previous agreements with Mission and Nueces County, where the Corpus Christi Veterans Cemetery is located, Kelley said.

Jones County officials recently declined the offer, Kelley said, because “they were afraid they simply didn’t have the staff to be able to support what we need at the cemetery.”

However, County Judge Dale Spurgeon “indicated that he was willing to enter into an interlocal agreement,” he said.

Texas also has a veterans cemetery in Killeen.

Budget debut

The concept presented to commissioners on Tuesday “starts with a budget,” Kelley said, to pay for employee salaries and consumable supplies, such as office products.

The state would pay for any capital improvements or repairs over $1,000, while the county would provide personnel and supplies.

The state would budget and contract with the county, paying them “exactly that amount of money,” Kelley said.

“This is a zero cost proposition to the county,” he said.

By connecting with Mission and Nueces County, the state was able to save taxpayers about $300,000 and $500,000, respectively, he said.

He expected savings similar to Mission’s to come from the Taylor County deal, asking commissioners to consider a one-year deal.

“At the end of this year, we can both opt out if it doesn’t work out, or we can pursue a longer three-year type of contract,” Kelley said.

Commissioner’s concerns

chuck stateler

Commissioner Chuck Statler and others raised concerns about available labor in the county when so many businesses are already struggling to hire — and questioned why Jones County wouldn’t assume not the active role.

“Veterans Cemetery is located in the town of Abilene near (Lake Fort Phantom Hill), but it’s in Jones County,” Statler said.

Statler cited hiring issues with Taylor County’s law enforcement segment, which has 35 openings in different areas, including patrol, transportation, corrections and dispatch.

“(And) I don’t think any of the stations are fully staffed right now,” he said. “I think each of us has openings.”

Commissioners also expressed skepticism about a state agency asking for help from the county.

Commissioner Randy Williams said the “state” in the cemetery’s name indicates who should be in charge.

“We get this all the time,” he said, citing the Child Protective Service as an example. “…We keep being asked to do things that the state should be doing at its level.”

Williams said he struggled to figure out how to ask people in rural parts of the county to pay for a cemetery “that’s not even in our county.”

And there will always be unexpected costs in any proposed budget, he said.

“I don’t want to do this to my taxpayers,” Williams said. “I would just like to see the state step in and be responsible for what it creates and then support it down the road, rather than asking smaller jurisdictions that are already struggling with budgets.”

A little history

A gardener fertilizes grass at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Abilene Tuesday, May 19, 2020. In the foreground is the first veteran buried at the cemetery in 2009, Walter P. Morton Jr.

Until 2018, the Abilene cemetery was operated by a contracted provider, Kelley said.

“In 2018, things started to go a little awry,” he said, prompting the termination of that deal the following year.

This created an immediate problem, he said – namely “how do you continue to bury and honor our veterans and their families?”

The answer, he said, was found in the state-contracted temporary work agency.

“(We) paid a bunch of these people to operate the cemetery for us,” he said. “Abilene Cemetery has continued to operate under this model.”

Things started to change in 2020, when a “better idea” hatched for building relationships with local governments, Kelley said.

The first such agreement was reached with Mission in August 2020. Once this was successful, Nueces County was approached.

Working with counties has been particularly beneficial from a state perspective, Kelley said, because of the presence of local Veterans Services officers, which are not found at the city level.

Taylor County has a VSO, he said, one “already involved in all kinds of veteran information campaigns, speaking with local veteran groups, spreading the word about a whole bunch of veterans’ issues. veterans”.

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Not a burden?

Randy Williams, Taylor County Commissioners Court, Precinct 1, Holder

Because county staff in areas such as human resources or procurement would spend time supporting the cemetery, the agreement would include allowances to pay for that assistance, he said.

“We don’t want this to be an imposition on your costs,” Kelley told the commissioners.

The town of Mission receives about $750,000 a year to staff and supply items, he said. Nueces County’s contract is longer, reflecting a larger staff, Kelley said.

Abilene Cemetery has nine full-time employees and one part-time employee, he said.

Under the proposed agreement, existing employees, all currently considered temporary, would be converted to county employees.

“We’re going to pay their salaries and benefits,” Kelley said.

The funding “seems to be reimbursement,” he said, because it’s based on invoices.

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Ready to work?

Cathy Taff

Cathy Taff, the county’s director of human resources, told commissioners she thought there might not be much difficulty hiring workers for the cemetery, especially since the area has a significant veteran population.

“Veterans are generally very enthusiastic about having veteran jobs,” she said. “I don’t really think there would be quite the issue…because you would have to hire people to work at the prison.”

Publicity costs would be included, Kelley said, if the commissioners wanted to proceed with the plan.

“We will put in the budget what we need to make sure this proposal is a success,” he said.

Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for Abilene Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to


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