Larger cemetery will renew source of revenue for city

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 6, 2000

The first expansion of the Natchez City Cemetery in half a century will provide more than much-needed burial spaces. Proceeds from the sale of new spaces will renew a revenue source for the Natchez Cemetery Association that has dwindled over the years as space became limited.

Don Estes, cemetery director, said the city cemetery operates from three main sources of revenue: charges for perpetual care, appropriations from the city and fees for burial spaces.

The cemetery relies on the earnings of a perpetual care trust fund for the majority of its income, Estes said, and about 16 percent – or $39,600 this year – of the cemetery’s annual budget comes from city appropriations.

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But, proceeds from burial spaces, which also make up about 16 percent of the cemetery’s total budget, have gradually decreased over the years as the cemetery filled and burial spaces became limited, Estes said.

&uot;We’ve missed that for quite a while, and we hope with the sale of these new plots we can use the money to update some equipment,&uot; he said.

Last week, the Natchez Board of Aldermen passed a resolution setting the price of new burial spaces in the city cemetery at $500 each, a price that does not include a $500 perpetual care charge set by the cemetery association.

In 1998, the cemetery association set the price of all burial spaces, including perpetual care charges, at $750.

The resolution and an accompanying ordinance amendment, both effective Dec. 1, raised the total price of burial spaces from $750 to $1,000, with the additional $250 going toward the city’s general fund to recoup money spent in the expansion.

Estes said the cemetery will use the renewed funding from the sale of burial spaces to update equipment used in mowing and maintaining the cemetery grounds.

Along with seven full-time employees, Estes said the amount of part-time labor required to mow the cemetery throughout the year makes payroll the association’s number one expense.

Though the cemetery’s age, various expansions and ornate monuments and fences make it unique, Estes said they also make the cemetery difficult to maintain. &uot;This is a beautiful, park-like atmosphere but to cut it is a nightmare,&uot; he said. &uot;But the beauty is there, and, to me, it’s worthwhile.&uot;

Margaret Weed, cemetery association member and co-president of the Friends of the Cemetery, agreed that the cemetery’s beauty and history make it unique from privately-owned cemeteries.

&uot;That cemetery belongs to the people of Natchez,&uot; she said. &uot;We want the cemetery to be open to people of all walks of life.&uot;