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Brackenridge may be required by law to maintain cemetery

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Monday, March 10, 2014, 12:41 a.m.

Although taking over maintenance of Prospect Cemetery may not seem like a wise choice, it could turn out that way for Brackenridge officials.

If the cemetery is not maintained, the grass is going to keep growing and it could turn into an unsightly mess. Then disinterested borough officials could face pressure to do something about it from neighbors worried about an adverse effect on their property values.

“I'm sure there will be interest in June when the grass is two feet high,” said Curt Murtland, Prospect Cemetery Association president.

Bob Stewart, president of the Pennsylvania Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Directors Association, said: “There is one in Philadelphia that went bankrupt. It was 466 or 486 acres. It was in an area of Philadelphia that was very nice and then everything around it started going bad.”

But Pennsylvania law could force Brackenridge to take action before that happens.

The Burial Grounds, Municipal Control Act of May 10, 1923, allows the courts to order a municipality where a neglected burial ground is located to take over its maintenance. All that takes is a court petition from at least 25 people who live within a five mile radius of the cemetery.

The catch however, is that the law mandates that weeds, grass and brush be cut or cleared twice: before May 30 and again before Aug. 15 each year.

What's worse and is the real killer as far as Prospect is concerned is that the law prohibits a municipality from spending more than $30 on any one cemetery each year.

Attorney Steve Yakopec of Lower Burrell, a municipal law specialist, confirmed that law is still on the books.

“I think, at one time, it was addressed by the Legislature because there is that provision on the books,” Yakopec said. “But they haven't really revisited it probably because it hasn't been that big of an issue.

“The more interesting question is: how many of these situations occur throughout he commonwealth?” he said. “If there are more and more cemeteries starting to appear like this one, then the Legislature will address the issue in some way, shape or form.”

Stewart said that is happening because some cemetery associations are literally dying off.

“It's happening because a lot of these associations were put together in the 1800s,” he said.

“I don't know what can be done about it because you have municipalities who are strapped for money,” Stewart said. “It's an obligation, it's a liability.”

“It would be like buying a house that you can't rent but you have to maintain and you can't live in it,” he said.

Attorney Gerald DeAngelis, who is advising the Prospect association, thinks that a cooperative maintenance effort between the boroughs of Tarentum and Brackenridge and Harrison Township, all of whom have historical links to the cemetery, would be the best solution.

“If each takes a section and mows it bi-weekly, you can probably maintain it well into the future,” he said.

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