DOBBINS HEIGHTS — The debate over who’s responsible for cleaning up the cemetery in Dobbins Heights raged at the town’s most recent meeting, which was rescheduled because of weather.
Harold Riley, who is from New York but has at least eight family members buried in the cemetery, started an effort during the summer to clean the cemetery after coming to visit his family members’ graves and finding the area in disarray.
The cemetery is a “non-perpetual care” cemetery, meaning that each plot owner is responsible for the upkeep of the plots he or she owns. In years past, the owners paid to keep the surrounding area clean; but those owners since have died and, with them, so has the money for upkeep.
The cemetery no longer sells plots and now completes only orders made years previously.
One of the current owners, Jane Mask, whose father paid out of his own pocket to have the cemetery cleaned, offered to sell the cemetery to the town for $1 in the hopes that it then could apply for grant money to pay for a cleanup effort.
In response to that offer, Riley started a petition that — when initially submitted to the town — bore 209 signatures supporting the town’s buying the cemetery and maintaining it.
But Glenn Cutler, executive director of the N.C. Cemetery Commission, said in an email that he was “not aware of any program which provides grants to municipalities (or to anyone else) to fund cemetery clean-up or restoration/maintenance.”
“Those programs may indeed exist, but as we do not regulate municipal-owned or -operated cemeteries, I would possibly not be aware of them,” Cutler said.
Riley attended the town’s most recent meeting to ask the town to buy the cemetery and was unanimously rebutted by council members in a heated discussion in which council members and Riley repeatedly attempted to speak over each other.
“You want us to take over the cemetery — it’s never been in our conversation that the town take over the cemetery — at all,” said Mayor Antonio Blue. “The reason being that it becomes a burden to the taxpayer. The taxpayer becomes responsible for a cemetery that doesn’t belong to them.”
The mayor said he spoke with Cutler, who advised against the town’s buying the cemetery because it would mean taking on liability. Blue continued to say that those 209 people, or “300 or 400,” who had signed Riley’s petition could clean up the cemetery, as many had expressed interest in doing, and the council would support that.
Blue himself was part of two efforts to clean the cemetery before to being elected mayor more than a decade ago, but the efforts didn’t last.
The meeting became especially heated when Riley claimed to have information that grant money was available for cleanup but would not disclose who had given him that information, what organization would provide the grant, or how the town or anyone else would apply for the grant.
“If there’s grant money out there, don’t you think there would be people lining up to get grant money to clean up the cemetery? There’s no grant money. (Cutler) said there’s no grant money,” Blue said. “You’re saying there’s grant money. Well, they’re the owners, so they should apply for the grant money to help clean up the cemetery.”
Riley then asked each council member whether he or she would be interested in buying the cemetery for $1, with each saying no.
Mayor Pro Tem Tyre Holloway said the only thing the council was willing to do was to assist Riley and whoever volunteered to clean it up, and Blue clarified that this did not mean the town would write a “blank check.”
Things ended amiably however, with Councilmember Angeline David thanking Riley for his concern. On his way out, Riley said he has faith that the cemetery will be cleaned, even though the path forward may not be clear.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]