Inmates considered for Beulah cleanup

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

As the city again sought bids for a company to hack through foliage in a nearly abandoned black cemetery, the mayor was exploring the possibility of recruiting inmate labor to do the job for less money.

The Beulah Cemetery cleanup project will be funded by a $50,000 budget line item approved by the state Legislature nearly two years ago.

It was unclear Tuesday whether using inmates from an Issaquena County prison facility would be permissible under the terms of the legislation, but Mayor Robert Walker said he had discussed the matter with state Archives and History Director Elbert Hilliard. Walker said Hilliard had asked for a written proposal.

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The funding, which was sponsored by Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, awards the money to the Beulah Cemetery Restoration Committee, a private group that has been working for years to clean and restore the old cemetery. But the Department of Archives and History and the City of Vicksburg were included in the process to make sure government protocols for public funds were followed.

Whether the inmate labor idea is approved, the process of getting private bids for the work is continuing. If prisoners are permitted to do the work, then bids put in by private companies can simply be rejected, Walker said.

“This has been a long, drawn-out thing that should have been done by now,” he said. “What we don’t need to do at this point is waste any more time.”

The project was put out for bids once before, during the summer, but no offers to do the work were received. City Planner Ronnie Bounds said several potential bidders were concerned about the thickness of the vegetation during the summer, and wanted to wait for colder weather.

The Beulah committee unanimously approved the idea of inmate labor, if it could legally be done.

But Yolande Robbins, the group’s leader, said she was concerned that prisoners would need to be carefully monitored to make sure they show proper respect and care.

“I think it is not reasonable to assume that forced labor is going to be careful with the tombstones,” Robbins said. “We will have to name someone to oversee the labor who will be acting in the best interests of the committee.”

The $50,000 must be spent by June 30, or it will no longer be available. Flaggs, who sought and received one reappropriation, said he won’t ask the Legislature for more money for the project until he sees some results.

Under Walker’s plan, the funds would be used to hire law enforcement officers to provide security for the inmates as they work. The mayor said he suggested the plan because it would leave more money for other projects, like repairing the cemetery’s fencing or restoring the tombstones.

Beulah Cemetery, at the east end of Martin Luther King Boulevard, was begun by a fraternal order in 1884. Burials at Beulah gradually slowed from the 1940s to a near halt today. Beulah Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

Over the years, as burials have become less frequent, maintenance has also become scarce, and many grave markers have become completely covered by dense underbrush.

Also Tuesday, city officials:

Authorized the Vicksburg Optimist Club to sell Christmas trees on a lot on Pemberton Boulevard.

Approved a $600 application fee for a license to run sewer pipe lines under railroad tracks owned by Kansas City Southern Railway.

Approved a $2,000 allocation to We Care Community Services Inc.

Adopted a preliminary order approving the application of GNB Technologies Inc. for an ad valorem tax exemption.