State law: Abandoned cemetery is Tyrone's responsibility
TYRONE—The grass at the Wayne Village Cemetery in the town of Tyrone has grown unstopped, except for when a random resident mows part of the grounds.
The problem is, as Tyrone Supervisor Lisa Bishop explained, there is no organization in charge of it anymore. There used to be a Wayne Cemetery Association. According to records in the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office, it was deeded to trustees of that group by Henry Valent on Jan. 11, 1952.
However, the last name associated with the property in the real property tax services office is Ruth Hamilton, with a type of Hammondsport address that no longer exists: RD 1. Hammondsport Postmaster Rhonda Quade explained that number system hasn’t existed in at least 12 years. She added Ruth Hamilton passed away years ago. In the meantime, the cemetery is only occasionally mowed and maintained. State law concerning cemeteries says the town has certain responsibilities in maintaining a cemetery in this case.
Bishop said she and her husband were able to mow the cemetery for last Memorial Day, but couldn’t find the time this year. She added she wants to get workers from Camp Monterey to come maintain the cemetery a few times a month.
Bishop said the town of Tyrone wants to take over management of the cemetery, but is missing paperwork. Watkins Glen attorney Connie Miller said in a situation like this, a group needs to form to replace the organization that used to exist. She said the group would have to appoint new trustees and get a court order from the state. Schuyler County District Attorney said going through the records to see if someone else now owns the property (not currently reflected in the 1952 deed on record) would be daunting.
The state agency in charge of that would be New York Department of State, Division of Cemeteries. It would be the one to approve the creation of a new or renewed cemetery association. According to the not for profit corporation law concerning cemeteries, an abandoned cemetery is one that was previously owned by an organization, which no longer exists or there are not sufficient funds to provide the necessary care or maintenance.
Under town law, the rules state: “In any town the town board may adopt regulations for the proper care of any such cemetery and burial ground and regulating the burial of the dead therein. It shall be the duty of the town board to remove the grass and weeds from any such cemetery or burial ground in any such town at least three times in each year, and to erect and maintain suitable fences around such cemetery or burial ground.”
Bishop said getting someone to mow the cemetery is hard because insurance costs are so high. However, the law also states a municipality can establish a volunteer program to clean an abandoned cemetery. In regards to insurance the law says, “No municipal corporation which establishes a volunteer cemetery maintenance and cleanup program shall be liable for any damages sustained by any person participating and no cause of action for such damages shall be adjudicated by any court in this state which would otherwise have jurisdiction to adjudicate such claim.” The division of cemeteries also accepts funding requests to help maintain abandoned cemeteries.
Bishop said she wasn’t aware of the law and what it said about what the town could do. She added she would ask the town attorney about it.
Joan Scotchmer said three weeks ago her family buried her parents’ ashes in the cemetery. She said minutes before the ceremony she was brushing grass clippings off of the grave site someone had left there. Scotchmer explained her parents bought the plots over 10 years ago, with lifetime care of the grave sites included in the purchase.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful,” she said.
Judy Horton also has family buried in the cemetery. She said the last time she saw it mowed was in September of last year. Horton added it used to be maintained regularly, but not recently.
Pastor Judy Peppard of the Wayne Baptist Church, right next to the cemetery, said the church itself is concerned about the condition of the grounds. Despite the church being next to the cemetery, the two aren’t connected. Peppard said as far as she knows, the two weren’t affiliated. She added while some congregation members are buried there, the majority are people from the community at large.
“It’s a lack of respect for the people buried there,” she said.