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Leaders agree to restore blighted cemetery
An agreement is reached to settle maintenance issues at West Elfers Cemetery.
By CAMILLE C. SPENCER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007
After years of squabbling over maintenance issues at West Elfers Cemetery, county leaders, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg and members of the cemetery association agreed on terms Tuesday that they say will restore the blighted burial ground.
During a 45-minute meeting at the County Commission building, diocese attorney Joseph DiVito said the diocese will adjust the maintenance schedule to have the lawn mowed more often during the rainy season.
DiVito also agreed to provide association member Jeff Cannon, who has led the charge for the cemetery's restoration, with financial statements and a maintenance schedule for the cemetery.
And County Administrator John Gallagher directed a county crew to survey the area around the cemetery and estimate the cost for a new fence to replace the broken one that now surrounds the 3-acre plot.
The three parties will meet again in about a month to discuss the results of the survey.
"I think we made some progress," Cannon said Tuesday after the meeting. "The issues at this point have been resolved. Let's see if they follow through."
About a dozen people, including Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson and County Attorney Robert Sumner, attended Tuesday's meeting. Gallagher helped move things along during the short meeting.
"Maybe the sheriff's inmates can get the old fence out," Johnson suggested.
"So we're going to do a survey and get estimates on a fence. What's the next part of it?" Gallagher replied.
Tuesday was the first time the cemetery association had a chance to sit down with the county and the diocese - joint owners of the property - to discuss cemetery issues.
The 130-year-old cemetery has about 300 burial plots.
It was owned by Richard Milbauer until he died in 1981. A $100,000 trust fund was left for maintenance and administered by AmSouth Bank. The county and the diocese split the deed on the property.
Although the trust grew to $270,000, AmSouth said the interest income wasn't enough to support maintenance fees. So last year the bank transferred maintenance control to the diocese.
But Cannon said the diocese wasn't maintaining the cemetery regularly.
From time to time, Cannon and other members of the cemetery association whose family members are buried there would host cleanups. Members say they found old rolls of carpet and overgrown grass, and that homeless people slept there.
Cannon said he wants the maintenance to be done as promised so that the cemetery association can focus on other issues, like updating records on the cemetery.
Cannon said about 20 unmarked graves that are sunken into the ground are not included on county records. That's because cemetery surveys involve people walking through and recording marked headstones.
"We are hoping this puts an end to the grass being waist high so we can turn our attention to clarifying records out there," he said.