August 8, 2013
City assists in cemetery repairs
DPW, Water Dept. fix headstones, cleanup Cortland Rural Cemetery
The Cortland Rural Cemetery has faced financial difficulties in recent years, leading to public outcry about the appearance and maintenance of the historic site. A helping hand from the city on some cemetery projects last month has lessened the load.
John Hoeschele, the president of the cemetery’s board of trustees, said the city’s help was a welcome boost. Projects the city pitched in on included righting headstones and replacing a deteriorating water system.
“We’ve been struggling for many years,” Hoeschele said of the cemetery.
Municipal resources are allowed to be used for public cemetery corporation maintenance under a 2010 amendment to state General Municipal Law. It allows for the voluntary usage of city goods and services.
Hoeschele said that having a law on the books helped encourage the Mayor’s Office to get involved. The projects took less time than he had anticipated and saved the cemetery thousands of dollars.
The nonprofit cemetery encompasses 44 acres off Tompkins Street. It is run by two volunteer boards and has an operating budget of about $100,000. Two employees work year-round, one of whom is part-time, though the cemetery usually takes on additional workers during the summer.
Mayor Brian Tobin said that he had a conversation with department heads about offering their services to help with the cemetery’s potential problems. Since most municipality work is project based, the time taken to help the cemetery came from the scheduling gaps between projects.
Each of the cemetery projects was done during regular paid hours so city workers were not using overtime or any extra time to complete the projects, according to department heads. Projects for the cemetery came at a time of need and the financial difficulties are well-known, Tobin said.
“In the big picture, the concern is that if the cemetery is not viable long term, it would impact the community negatively,” Tobin said.
Hoeschele agreed that the viability of the cemetery is important for the city financially as well. If the cemetery was to fail, the city would be obligated to take over the operation of the cemetery.
Projects revolved around fixing infrastructure and improving the cemetery’s appearance. The cemetery had been collecting dirt, rocks and other debris behind its Sand Street property from decades of burials. The mounds of material soon reached over 20 feet high, impacting the appearance the cemetery.
To aid in the clean up effort, the city’s Department of Public Works removed 66 dump truck loads of dirt and other debris from the site. While a majority was taken to a clean fill landfill, some of the dirt was used to regrade the bank behind the property and as clean fill in recovery efforts from the July flooding.
Nicholas Dovi oversaw the DPW’s efforts to clean up the site and said that the project only took a single week, including a rain day, to complete.
The end goal of the debris removal is the creation of the green-waste management stations, which include topsoil sifting to remove rocks and wood-fuel for heating the cemetery’s staff housing.
“It is for the greater good,” Dovi said. “We gave them room to be more proactive.”
The clean up project would have been expensive if they had been made to contract out the work, Hoeschele said. There’s still more work to be done, however, and Hoeschele expects it will take months, or even a couple of years, to complete the green-waste management.
Other municipal resources used to assist the cemetery included the city Water Department. A project to create working water stations and shut down the distributed water system received help with excavation and hook-ups from the Water Department, once again saving the cemetery considerable money.
Hoeschele said water was bubbling up through the ground from the old water system and many of the spigots did not work. While there will be fewer water stations available now, Hoeschele says they will be more reliable. The city’s wastewater treatment plant also provided assistance with returning 11 fallen headstones to their foundations, volunteering man-hours and equipment. The damaged headstones had not been vandalized but had been destabilized by ground shifts, according to Hoeschele.
Bruce Adams, the chief operator at the wastewater treatment plant, said the effort to clean up the cemetery was worthwhile.
“We were happy to help,” Adams said. “ We thought it was a very positive thing. The Cortland Rural Cemetery is a gem in the city.”
Adams said that it only took a couple of hours to reposition the headstones and did not interrupt activities at the treatment plant.
While happy to help, Tobin says he does not see an arrangement where the city supports the cemetery to this degree in the near future.
“We’re not looking at this as a long-term solution,” Tobin said. “As we’re looking ahead, we have to be judicious.”
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