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Natchez cemetery needs cash infusion to operate
from Staff Reports - NEWS
May 24, 2017 - ListenUpYall.com

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – The Natchez Board of Aldermen is trying to come up with more money for the city cemetery that’s so short of funds it may not be adequately maintained without a quick infusion of cash

“We need money now…. We cannot operate,” said Shirley Petkovsek, representing the association in charge of maintaining the city-owned cemetery.

She and other association members Tuesday asked the board and Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell to allocate more money as soon as possible for the cemetery’s upkeep. The mayor said the board should decide in two weeks how much to give the cemetery after city officials review their own unsettled financial picture.

“We’re trying to do it right. Bear with us.” Grennell said.

Cemetery operations have a $88,000 budget deficit. The mayor and aldermen discussed Tuesday providing the cemetery about $32,000. That’s on top of the $40,000 the board allocated for the cemetery last September for the current fiscal year.

The cemetery this past year had expenses of about $258,000 but only about $170,000 in income, said Natchez Cemetery Association treasurer Paula Estes. About $200,000 of the costs is cemetery employee-related expenses, she said.

The association was charted in 1907 to maintain the city-owned cemetery. The 100-acre graveyard – established in 1822 – is one of Natchez’ most historic sites and largest tourist attractions.

To augment funds from the city, the cemetery association generates revenues from selling grave plots and from private contributions. However, the income persistently falls short of expenses. Estes pointed to the costs of paying for cemetery workers, grass-cutting, landscaping, structural repairs and other needs.

Alderman Sarah Carter Smith has expressed concerns that cemetery employees could be laid off without more money from the city. Alderman Dan Dillard noted the cemetery is public property the board is obligated to properly maintain.

While aldermen indicated they support giving the cemetery association more money, they’re struggling with the city’s overall budget woes that continue to plague them.

“We’re spending money and we don’t know if we have it,” said Alderman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis.

She pointed to errors in the city budget found by an accounting firm hired by the board in September to do a “forensic audit” of the city’s finances, which have been marred the past four years by inaccurate bookkeeping, funding shortfalls and overspending.

Grennell said two weeks ago that the auditors’ report was being finalized, but few details of it have been publicly discussed by the mayor and board.




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