Delays in maintaining cash-strapped Muskegon Heights-owned cemetery plague loved ones
MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – When Jennifer Harvey-Shimer visited the graves of her family members earlier this year, once again she was disappointed with the condition of the cemetery.
The grass was overgrown, tree branches were on top of the graves, and the leaves from the previous fall had not been raked.
“The grass was taller than your knee,” said Harvey-Shimer, who lives in Vicksburg and visits the graves of his father and other family members twice a year.
“There were members everywhere – we just weren’t taking care of them,” she said. “It was just a mess.”
The conditions she faced at Mona View Cemetery for several years partly reflected the financial problems that befell her owner, the town of Muskegon Heights.
Once a place of dark beauty, a place where prominent members of the community wanted to be their final resting place, Mona View Cemetery has suffered from years of neglect. All the windows were smashed in an old greenhouse on the site, and an adjoining office, open to the elements, has trash strewn about.
Plywood covers the window of a chapel built in 1973 and abandoned. A warning tape hangs limply from an old cannon near where dozens of identical veterans’ tombstones line up as a silent sentry.
Muskegon Heights City Manager Troy Bell is aware of the complaints. To help address concerns, the city is spending an additional $ 15,000 on two new lawn care contracts, and Bell told MLive he hopes the new expectations will translate into better service.
“When I got here, the existing contract to take care of the cemetery really didn’t have any details on service level requirements,” said Bell, who has been managing director since September 2019. “What we defined in this new contract do they need to cut it and manicure it and slice it, that’s a higher expectation.
The city’s budget of $ 50,000 for the maintenance of the cemetery is split equally between two contractors.
“Once we get to the point where we manicure it… I’d like to do some landscaping rather than just mowing,” Bell said.
Harvey-Shimer said his father, a former Muskegon police officer who died in 1987, along with his aunts paid for the lifelong care of their graves. But even getting water from the cemetery to maintain the flower planters has proven difficult, she said.
“Every year it just gets worse and worse and worse,” she said. “It’s just not acceptable. When you pay for lifelong care, you really believe you are getting it.
“Every time I go out I end up crying.
Bell agrees that payments for lifelong care should be placed in a special fund, the interest of which would be paid for regular maintenance. This did not happen with the Mona View Perpetual Care Fund.
“I don’t know what has happened over the years, but this lifelong care fund has around $ 100,000 to $ 200,000,” Bell said, adding that it wasn’t enough to generate enough money. interest in maintenance.
Bell is wary of the increased fees at the cemetery, as he said it was important to keep it affordable for city residents. And the general city fund does not have the resources to cover the expenses of the cemetery, he said.
“It’s a priority for me,” said Bell. “I agree that we have to do better. Our citizens and the people who have loved ones there deserve to have a beautiful cemetery.
“It’s going to take time to get there.
Lee Fonstein goes to the cemetery to visit his parents’ graves at least monthly in warm weather. She too was shocked by the deteriorating conditions there.
Fonstein said she attended a meeting with Bell at town hall, where people gave their names and numbers and offered to volunteer at the cemetery. She never got a response and recently left several messages at town hall but never received a return call, Fonstein said.
“I know the city has no money,” Fonstein said. “Obviously the city needs help. I sympathize with this part of it.
“But I think if they asked the community for help in any way, they would get it.”
Joe Heggood was visiting Mona View Cemetery last week to tend the graves of family members and for some peace and quiet. It’s something he does two to three times a week, Heggood told MLive.
“It keeps you anchored here,” Heggood said. “Keeps you focused – so you don’t get so depressed.” “
He agreed that the grass could be cut further and the leaves raked.
“It could be a little more maintained than it is,” he said. “You must pay homage to the dead.”
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