4 communities may share Prospect Cemetery upkeep
Whether four communities will agree to jointly maintain Prospect Cemetery should be known within a few weeks.
Representatives from Brackenridge, Tarentum, Harrison and Fawn met on Monday night in the Brackenridge Borough Building along with members of the cemetery's board of trustees. They discussed what might be done about the 150-year old cemetery in Brackenridge, which has come close to turning into an eyesore in recent years.
Frustrated by a lack of funds to maintain the cemetery, Curt Murtland, president of the Prospect Cemetery Association, said the six-member board is close to submitting resignations to the Allegheny County courts. That would leave the property without a custodian and could force Brackenridge to take on that role.
Freeport attorney Gerald DeAngelis, who is advising the cemetery trustees, outlined one development that could have an impact.
Although an archaic state law prevents a municipality from spending more than $30 per year on maintenance for an abandoned or neglected cemetery, DeAngelis said the state's borough code has a provision that allows for maintenance without such a limit. He said the second-class township code mirrors that.
“Once the organization dies, then nobody owns it,” DeAngelis said, adding that is when the borough code would kick in.
“So, it appears there is authority under the borough code and, I guess we have two townships here. too, to care for this cemetery on a joint basis,” said Craig Alexander, Brackenridge's solicitor.
Murtland, DeAngelis and other members of the cemetery board, emphasized that all four communities have a stake in the Prospect issue in that it is the resting place of more than 700 war veterans dating back to the War of 1812. DeAngelis pointed out many influential historical figures responsible for the rise of the four communities, not to mention relatives of residents in each community, are interred there.
“These people (trustees), in all good faith, don't want to let this property go to pot,” DeAngelis said.
The 17-acre tract is located in Brackenridge but near the line with Tarentum. It is 150 years old and contains the remains of 17,000 people, all of whom were members of the Prospect Cemetery Association, the owner of the property.
Murtland said the cemetery is about 98 percent full. He outlined the problems: few living members and few lots to sell, declining revenue from fewer burials and a perpetual care fund that was ravaged by the national financial crisis in 2008. The result, he said, is the association is virtually broke and cannot afford to cut the grass in the cemetery.
Dave Montanari, a Fawn supervisor, asked what Murtland was looking for in the way of help and what it cost to keep the cemetery maintained.
Murtland said up until last year, they were able to keep the grass cut at a cost of $15,000 a year but the former groundskeeper had to be let go because of the finances. He said new grass-cutting proposals would have to be sought.
John Stanzione, a Brackenridge councilman, said it appeared the logical step is for the communities to participate by providing equal shares of money or labor and equipment to maintain the cemetery.
“It wouldn't hurt us, all four of us, with money,” Harrison Supervisor Gary Lilly said. “We're not talking about that much money.”
Brackenridge Councilwoman Mary Lou Poli, who organized the meeting, asked the other municipal representatives to discuss the matter with the rest of their governing bodies and get back to her with a response on what they are willing to do.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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