Hall: Cemetery plots’ upkeep not city’s responsibility

Published 6:14 am Friday, January 20, 2017

During Tuesday night’s meeting of the Bogalusa City Council, several citizens expressed their concerns about the state of the city’s cemeteries.

James Hall, public works director for the city of Bogalusa, said he understands why some people are upset, but the individual grave plots within the cemeteries are not technically the city’s responsibility.

Hall said that while it is true the city owns and operates Ponemah and Bogalusa cemeteries, the individual gravesite plots are purchased by private citizens.

“I can sell you a 5-by-10 for one burial plot, or a 20-by-20 to bury eight,” Hall said. “But when I sell you that, then that plot becomes your private property, just like your house is. If there’s a vault or grave, or headstone, and it gets broken or sinks, it’s not the city’s responsibility to fix that — it’s yours. You bought that property.”

Hall said that some of the gravesites are in poor shape, but the reason is almost always because there are no living family members who can keep them maintained.

“What do we do at that point?” Hall said. “We have to hope that the community gets together to do something. The Bogalusa High School Jr. ROTC did an excellent job on the veterans’ plots at Bogalusa Cemetery earlier this week, for example. We don’t currently have the manpower at the city to do that kind of maintenance for the plots that are in bad shape.”

Hall said that the city does try to keep the grass mowed on the cemetery land, but even that has become a controversy. He noted that many plot owners pay private citizens to maintain their plots, and if the city mows the grass on those plots, then those private citizens do not get paid.

Hall said that signs and borders are clearly marked on the cemetery campuses, to let the city workers know where not to mow.

“We actually looked at spraying the grass to (slow down) the growth,” he said. “But if I do that, and it kills all the grass, then those 60 or 70 people who mow plots for others won’t get paid. I’m kind of between a rock and a hard place.”

Hall said he was happy that citizens in Bogalusa were concerned about the cemeteries and spoke out about them publicly at Tuesday’s meeting. But at the same time, he wanted to alleviate any confusion about who is ultimately responsible for the cemetery gravesites.

“We do care, and we are concerned, but at some point we have to have the community’s help,” Hall said. “Our laws and regulations only allow us to do certain things, and we try to stick to them the best that we can.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Melvin Abrams noted that damages from the flood are still visible at the cemeteries, and “nobody has attempted to fix anything out there yet.”

“We’ve got bodies that are bottom-side up right there right now from the flood,” he said. “We’ve got vaults that are open. I’ve got a tarp over a crypt right now, out there, where you can see the casket. And one time somebody went and pried it open, to see if there’s any jewelry in there.”

Abrams said he had brought the damages to Hall’s attention “about seven months ago,” but nothing had been done.

Fate Ferrell also said he was disappointed by the state of the city’s cemeteries.