City action stuns board for cemetery

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 30, 2000

A resolution passed Tuesday by the Natchez Board of Aldermen dealing with expansion of the City Cemetery came as a surprise to the Natchez Cemetery Association, board members said Thursday.

&uot;The city totally blindsided us with this (new resolution),&uot; cemetery director Don Estes said. Estes said he learned of the aldermen’s actions Thursday from a newspaper article.

The resolution and an accompanying ordinance amendment set the price of burial spaces in the two newly-developed Bluff and McPherson cemetery plots at $500 each and clarified the way proceeds from the sale of spaces is distributed – evenly between the association and the city. The price set by aldermen does not include perpetual care and the opening and closing of burial spaces, which is an additional $500 paid to the cemetery association.

Email newsletter signup

In 1998, the cemetery board set the price of all spaces, which would have included the new plots, at $750. That price included the cost of perpetual care, said association board president Jeanne Stowers.

&uot;Apparently the city has the authority to set the price of burial spaces,&uot; Estes said after meeting with Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith and City Attorney Walter Brown Thursday. &uot;We thought we (the association) had that authority, but ours is countermanded by the city.&uot;

Under the new resolution and ordinance, effective today, people will pay $500 for a space in the new plots and an additional $500 for perpetual care – a total of $250 more than the previously determined cost set by the association.

The new ordinance marks the first time the city will profit from the sale of burial spaces. After dividing the money made from the sale of new spaces, the city will receive $250 per space, and the association will continue to receive $250.

The expansion will provide about 2,100 new burial spaces, Estes said.

Some association members suspected that the ordinance was amended because the city needs money and sees an opportunity to profit from the sale of new burial spaces.

&uot;As I said to (the association members Thursday), the city is trying to recoup some of the outlay that we incurred in developing those two new sections,&uot; Smith said.

Smith also said he understands that the authority to set the price of burial spaces has always belonged to the mayor and aldermen but has fallen to the cemetery association in the past.

&uot;A lot of this may have come to light because this is the first time in anyone’s memory that there has been an expansion of the cemetery,&uot; he said.

Smith also emphasized that the aldermen’s decision to amend the ordinance and set the price of the burial spaces does not reflect a mistrust of the association.

&uot;We don’t have any intentions of taking away from anything they’ve done,&uot; he said.

&uot;They have done a super job, and they have done a super job for a long time.&uot;

But, board President Stowers said the aldermen’s actions create an &uot;embarrassing&uot; situation for the cemetery association, which had already told at least 50 people on the cemetery’s waiting list that the cost of new spaces would be $750.

&uot;Now we have to go back and call those people and tell them there’s nothing we can do about it,&uot; she said. &uot;Our hands are tied; it belongs to the city.&uot;