UTICA, N.Y. -- Distraught family members gathered at New Forest Cemetery in Utica Tuesday to meet with board members who say insurmountable debt and a lack of support has left them with no choice but to walk away.
Johnny Williams has a lot riding on New Forest Cemetery getting solvent, and staying open.
"I got my father, mother, sisters, brother, nieces and nephews and my aunt and uncles…,” Williams said. "I don't want to see this place close. I don't want to not be able to have access to enter and see family.”
He is not alone.
“Nobody's up in there for free. Nobody got a handout. Nobody got nothing. We paid for that," shouted one of about two dozen or so family members, gathered outside the cemetery office.
A rep from the state Division of Cemeteries was there, as was Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon,D-119, who toured the cemetery, where overgrown weeds and grass and fallen tree limbs encroach upon headstones.
"How the grave diggers going to get in there if the trees taller than us?” yelled a concerned family member.
“Yeah, essentially, the board, we’re through," said outgoing board chair, Craig Minor.
Board members basically walked away today, frustrated by a volunteer gig more exhausting and demanding than most paid jobs.
"Cutting the grass, burying folks," said Minor. “Probing for graves, weed whacking, cutting…record keeping, it's a lot. And for somebody to volunteer to do these things, come on."
The cemetery is buried by financial problems.
“They owe $188,000, $525,000 that they have that's unencumbered that yields some dividends, but not enough to maintain this," said Minor.
Buttenschon addressed the crowd, and the financial woes.
“There was a group out of Buffalo that said they'd be willing to take over and manage as long as that debt was not there," said the Assemblywoman.
The Assemblywoman brought legislation to forgive the debt. The Assembly passed it. The Senate added an amendment, which means it's back to the Assembly, where she's hopefully they'll pass it again. But there's no telling when.
“The Division of Cemeteries is now in charge," said Minor.
An outgoing board member told the crowd they'd keep the gates open, with an “enter at your own risk” sign.