City of Memphis agrees to clean up blighted cemeteries after WREG investigation

Investigations

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Families will finally get some answers about overgrown grass and weeds at Hollywood Cemetery.

Soon, families will once again be able to see gravesites.

“Praise God! Not only are we getting something done. We are getting something done quickly,” said Alice Waller. 

She asked WREG for help after seeing the conditions at the Hollywood cemetery where her grandmother is buried.

“Oh. It is disheartening. It is beyond disheartening,” Waller said Monday as she visited the overgrown lots.

It was about the same at nearby Mt. Caramel Cemetery and Rose Hill Cemetery. But the City of Memphis and Shelby County seemed to wash their hands of the problem when WREG called them Monday.

Shelby County said it was no longer cleaning up cemeteries. They said it was a city issue. But the City of Memphis told us cemeteries weren’t in their purview.

WREG then sent city officials a copy of a resolution that passed last year, where the Shelby County Commission and the City of Memphis both allocated $15,000 to keep the cemeteries clean. The money went to the division of Public Works.

County Commissioner Eddie Jones pushed for it.

“We granted them a grant and that they would do it. We just made the funds available,” Jones said.

City Councilman Edmund Ford Senior got it to the Memphis City Council.

By Thursday afternoon, the City of Memphis’ stance changed. They sent us a statement that Shelby County and City of Memphis will allocate a total of  $30,000 to address five cemetery properties.

The City of Memphis agrees to maintain the properties until those funds are depleted. They will also assign a contractor.

“I am so grateful,” Waller said. “I am grateful to Channel 3 and I am grateful to the city and county.”

The City of Memphis isn’t saying when the work will start, but we have been told it could be in a couple of weeks.
   
“I am hopeful, April. You and Channel 3 have us hopeful out here,” Waller said.

State Senator Raumesh Akbari has been pushing to change state laws that will allow more money from cemetery trusts to be used for upkeep. Right now, only the interest on funds can be used for maintenance.

“I would like change how these trusts function, because there is $200,000 in a trust but the amount of interest that is received is so nominal it really cannot support maintaining these cemeteries,” says Akbari.

For families who just want to be able to visit their loved ones graves, they may finally be able to.

“We just don’t want to be forgotten and the media, Channel 3, have a way of really kinda pulling people’s coat tails and saying, ‘Hey, can we get a little attention here?’” Waller said.

The City of Memphis also plans on going to Environmental Court to find a long-term maintenance plan.

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