ELLERBE — The next time Ellerbe workers fertilize the town cemetery, they’ll do it by hand, Mayor Lee Berry promised Tuesday — not by driving spreaders over the gravesites.
Doing the job the latter way a few weeks ago might or might not promote the growth of a bit of green this spring, but it for sure has raised the hackles of people whose loved ones lie under the cemetery’s spotty grass.
“I (take) 100 percent of the blame,” said Berry, who gave workers permission to traverse the graves in the name of efficiency. “We made a mess, and we fessed up to it, and we’re going to move on.”
During their meeting this week, town commissioners also moved to ensure that those buried on weekends or after hours actually are lowered into plots they bought. No one has wound up in the wrong plot yet, Berry said; the city just wants to make sure no one does.
From now on, funeral homes will have a number to call for off-hours burials, so someone at the city knows when they occur. They also will pay a $50 fee to open a grave, as well as a $25 fee to set a monument in place.
In a departure from tradition, coffins also will have to be lowered into lead vaults and not directly into the ground, a measure than erases a concern about water runoff.
And the earth over each plot will have to be properly compacted so that one- or two-week-old graves don’t become shallow depressions.
“It’s so hard to change what’s been going on (for) 30 or 40 years, in 30 days,” Berry said of the cemetery, which has been a top concern at recent council meetings.
But, in “18 to 24 months, we’ll be about where we need to be” in the growth of erosion-controlling grass. “We’ve (just) got to go into the growing season right quick.”
After receiving complaints last February, Berry and Richmond County Cooperative Extension agent Paige Burns took soil samples at the cemetery, then sent them off to the N.C. Department of Agriculture, to see what it would recommend.
The samples still aren’t back, but the town has begun a twice-annual spreading of fertilizer and soon will plug in grass.
“Cemeteries are tough places to maintain in the best of situations,” Burns said after touring the Ellerbe plots in February.
Berry figures then that the town would need to spend about $5,000 to rejuvenate the cemetery grounds.
It had not budgeted that money in the past, each year setting aside $2,500 for cemetery maintenance, with that whole amount usually spent just mowing the 10-acre lot. Mowing happens twice a month in the summertime.
In March, commissioners revised how the city finances the cemetery, sending 50 percent — and not 100 percent — of the money generated by plot sales into the general fund, and reserving 50 percent to create a maintenance and beautification fund.
Plots cost $300 for Ellerbe residents and $600 for nonresidents.
“I think we’re on the right track with the graveyard,” Berry said. “It’s just going to be a little while.”
Reach Christine S. Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]