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7/16/2014 2:00:00 PM
Waldoboro Looks at How to Care for Veterans' Graves

Sen. Chris Johnson (right), D-Somerville, and Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, attended a public meeting on the care of veterans' graves in Waldoboro July 15. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
Sen. Chris Johnson (right), D-Somerville, and Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, attended a public meeting on the care of veterans' graves in Waldoboro July 15. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
 
By Dominik Lobkowicz

A number of interested parties are seeking information on cemeteries and cemetery associations in Waldoboro to help determine the town's future path for care of veterans' graves and possibly others.

Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs held a public meeting July 15 to meet with the various local cemetery associations to start discussing how the town can meet the requirement of a new state law on the care of veterans' graves.

An initial bill passed last year, LD 274, created a list of standards towns had to meet in maintaining veterans' graves in any public burying ground - a term not defined in the law - and had to maintain all the graves in any ancient burial grounds - private cemeteries established before 1880 - and provided no funding to cover the costs.

The maintenance would have included both mowing and brush removal as well as headstone or monument repair.

State Senator Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, sponsored a new bill this year to amend the requirements and clarify what a public burying ground is: a burying ground or cemetery in which any one can be buried regardless of religious or other affiliation.

Governor Paul LePage signed the new bill, LD 1662, into law in April and under it, towns may still maintain the grave sites of non-veterans in ancient burial grounds but would not be required to do so.

Veterans' graves in ancient burying grounds still need to be maintained to the best of the town's ability given location and accessibility, according to the law, and in public burying grounds, a municipality or cemetery corporation or association must maintain the headstones and monuments and can either set their own standards or use a set of standards included in the law for landscaping.

The law mentions collaboration between municipalities, cemetery associations, and veterans' organizations in several places throughout the text.

Roughly 20 people met at the Waldoboro Municipal Building to discuss the law's impact on the town, including Johnson and Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship.

Briggs said she called the meeting to hear the concerns of the various involved parties, including cemetery associations and the town's Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, and to hopefully find out how the town should move forward.

"I want to tackle this as a community," she said.

The town office has documentation on 72 cemeteries in town, but the actual total is estimated at around 100, Briggs said. Estimates at the meeting put the total number of veterans' graves in Waldoboro at between 700 and 800.

Even with the changes in the law, the new requirements mean Waldoboro has a new fiscal need that has never been budgeted for, according to Briggs.

Evangelos said the law created a "chain reaction" among Maine towns.

"The best fix down the road next year is to submit a bill with some funding," Evangelos said, adding that LePage threatened to veto any bill with such funding attached as a tax increase.

"We can't be passing laws and not provide funding," Evangelos said.

One option would be for the town to take over cemetery maintenance, but the move would have an impact on taxes, particularly since the town does not have the necessary equipment, Briggs said.

"I don't want to be in the cemetery business," Briggs said, adding that she was not sure the townspeople want to be either.

Several cemetery association representatives indicated dwindling endowments or low interest rates for funding maintenance and fewer people buying plots as well.

"The real problem is the cost of keeping these burial sites is fast outstripping the means of most associations in this community," said Carlton Johnson, who attended the meeting as a representative for several cemeteries in town.

Several people in attendance volunteered to talk with neighboring towns to see how they are responding to the law, and aim to bring the information to a follow-up meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Waldoboro Municipal Building.

At that meeting, Briggs hopes the informal group can create a proposal to bring to the Waldoboro Board of Selectmen.

In the meantime, Briggs is looking for a variety of information from the public: contact information for any cemetery corporations or associations in Waldoboro; lists of required maintenance for cemeteries in town; contact information for parties interested in the issue; and the location of any veterans' graves not yet identified.

To reach Briggs, contact the Waldoboro Town Office at 832-5369.




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