Cemetery upkeep leaves frustration for some

Published 12:05 am Sunday, October 13, 2013

NATCHEZ — Scaled back operations at the Natchez City Cemetery due to financial constraints have some area residents with loved ones buried there feeling frustrated.

Melissa Cangemi said she went to the cemetery last week to visit her son’s grave on his birthday Oct. 2, but what she found was what she characterized as grass up to her knees along the trail.

“It looks awful out there,” she said. “I have never seen it look like that.”

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Cangemi owns four plots including her son’s in the cemetery, and her family has 12 in all in the same area.

“The people who have the plots next to me paid $800 apiece, I paid $1,000 apiece and the ones who have bought them since then have paid $1,200 apiece,” she said. “We paid for perpetual care, and if this is perpetual care, what are you telling me we are paying for?”

Natchez City Cemetery Director Danny Brown said he understands the frustrations some families feel, but recent years have been financially difficult for the cemetery.

“We have a perpetual care fund and we are allowed to draw interest off that fund, but in the last four to six years since the economy took a dive, nobody is making any interest on anything, and when there is no interest to pull, I don’t have a revenue supply. We can’t pull from the principal in the fund.”

With the fund not generating enough interest, Brown said the cemetery had to let go of its second seasonal maintenance crew in August rather than in October, and in recent years, one employee who was laid off and another who retired have not been replaced.

“Perpetual care is still being applied, it is just not being applied as fast as I would like it myself,” Brown said.

“In my mind, the grass all the way back to Catholic Hill should be the same, but with only two weed eaters and one zero mower turn to cover all those acres and thousands of headstones, you move down to a snail’s pace.”

The cemetery increased its plot and burial fees earlier this year, and when the board of aldermen increased its appropriation to the cemetery from $39,600 to $72,000 in August, city officials urged the cemetery board to consider another increase in fees.

Brown said plot owners are welcome to maintain their own plots if they want.

Cangemi said it’s not unknown for plot owners to do just that at this point.

“I feel bad about going out there and cutting mine,” she said. “If you cut yours, you feel like you should be cutting all those around you because you know all the people out there in the new section. The couple (who have the plots) next to me, they have gone out there and cut mine.”

The Natchez City Cemetery was established in 1822 and covers more than 100 acres of land.