Cedar Hill plots will be leased|[5/11/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 11, 2006

Burial plots in Cedar Hill Cemetery, including a new portion, will be leased, no longer sold as private property, Vicksburg officials said Wednesday.

The Board of Mayor and Alderman unanimously approved an ordinance amendment at its regular meeting that authorizes the city to provide &#8220perpetual easements” for interment and care of gravesites effective Monday.

Another portion of the ordinance regulates placement of monuments and fences inside the 200-acre area, one of the 10 oldest active cemeteries in the country.

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The easement provisions apply to unsold plots and those in expansion areas. Current owners of plots will still hold deeds to their sites as before, said Anna Booth of the City Planning Department. The different approach keeps the city &#8220in the loop” when plots are abandoned or ownership is transferred.

The change comes as the city plans to begin offering 788 grave spaces in the cemetery’s northern border, known as Section J. The spaces will go on sale Monday at 8 a.m. at $240 each, with prices decreasing slightly for people who buy the rights to several spaces together. There will be no increase in rates from current plot prices, Booth said.

The city had long billed plot owners and families who could be found annually for maintenance, but began offering a one-time &#8220perpetual care” fee in 1996 to supplement sporadic and often unpaid bills. Many people still owe the city money on plots, Booth said, but the ordinance amendment was not targeted at collecting on those debts or preventing more in Section J, she said.

Rather, the easements allow the city more control over the property.

&#8220It had mostly to do with people not being able to turn around and resell their lot,” Booth said. &#8220They were not required to inform the city when they sold it, so it was difficult to keep track of who owned what plot.”

A plot can still be transferred to another family member, but must first be sold back to the city and then resold, or handed down legally.

&#8220An heir can be designated as given the right to be interred but they would not receive the transfer of that easement unless it was stated so in the last will and testament,” Booth said.

The amendment will also prohibit fences and other impediments to grass-cutting, other maintenance and new graves in the new section, planned on land leveled flat several years ago in preparation for the expansion. Venable Moore, caretaker of the cemetery for 16 years, said his crews often struggle to mow around often-collapsing railings, and to maneuver a backhoe to dig a new grave inside existing fence entrances.

Cedar Hill, at the end of Mission 66 off Sky Farm Avenue, was begun on former farmland by city ordinance on May 1, 1837, after the City of Vicksburg was chartered in 1825. It includes many graves of Confederate soldiers in addition to generations of Vicksburg families.

The cemetery receives income from sales, grave-opening and -closing charges and fees. With that money and a city supplement, the city provides maintenance.

In other business, the board: