Glocester volunteer lobbies for paid cemetery department

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Bill Brown speaks before the council.

GLOCESTER – Bill Brown, who has organized volunteers to clean and restore historical cemeteries in Glocester, would like to see that process become a full-time paid department in the near future.

At the recent Town Council meeting, Brown, who is vice president of the Glocester Heritage Society, asked the council to consider hiring four full-time employees, creating a new department, whose job would be to care for the various historical cemeteries in town. There are approximately 128 cemeteries, most of them on private land. Some are cared for by property owners and some by local companies on whose land the cemeteries are located.

Over the past five years, Brown and a group of volunteers have cleaned and restored all of the historical cemeteries in town. Some of the graves date back to the Revolutionary War. Last fall, he approached the council saying there needs to be some kind of full-time care provided moving forward. The council told him it would need to be in this year’s upcoming budget in order to do so and to prepare a presentation for the Budget Board, the first step in the process. Brown said the residents he has spoken with are interested in seeing his proposal.

“I’m here to ask if you’ll do that,” Brown told the council. “Will you sit down with me and put something together so they can learn about its purpose, what it will do, why it needs to be put in place, and how they will benefit from it?”

“I have been out knocking on doors,” said Brown. “I have been explaining to them what my proposal has been in brief, and they are all completely in favor of something being put in place of the volunteers.”

Admittedly, he said, people asked what it would cost and what would be involved. They asked him, he said, to approach the council with the request.

“These are the people who are going to pay for it,” he added. “They are all excited about being able to take their kids to these cemeteries and see what we did.”

The council, in the past, has praised Brown and his group of volunteers for their efforts. He currently gets a House grant, a Senate grant, and a grant from the Glocester Historical Society, as well as funds from the town to help pay for the tools and equipment needed.

The biggest obstacle, explained councilors at the recent meeting, is the cost. Employees would each cost approximately $70,000 a year. The overall price tag would amount to more than $300,000, explained Council President William Worthy. That would average out to about $54 per taxpayer or more, depending. It would be more for those who pay higher taxes.

“That doesn’t mean it’s split up evenly,” said Town Council Vice President Stephen Arnold.

The proposal, said councilors, has to be very clear.

“If you want to create a department that’s a separate entity for $280,000, you have to tell them everything,” explained Councilor Walter Steere, in reference to the town’s Budget Board. “You can’t just say it’s for cemeteries.”

“Why would I go that route now when we haven’t even sat down and talked about it?” asked Brown.

“Because they recommend to us,” answered Councilor Jonathan Burlingame. “They make a recommendation based on costs.”

He explained that it was Brown’s job to prepare whatever he had in mind, then bring it to the Budget Board and explain why it should be added to the town budget. After the board has made decisions on proposals, the budget is sent to the council for its consideration where it may or may not make cuts to determine the final outcome. The final increase has to be less than 15 percent, according to state regulations.

“You’ve got to start with the Budget Board and make a proposal,” added Steere.

“That’s the first stop,” agreed Arnold.

When Arnold explained the duties and responsibilities of those being hired had to be clearly defined, most likely as employees of the Department of Public Works and part of the union, Brown said he didn’t realize they had to be part of the union as well. The best approach, agreed the council, might be to leave it up to the voters.

“It’s probably going to be a referendum question,” said Worthy.

“I agree with Councilor Worthy,” said Town Clerk Jean Fecteau, who added she is neither for nor against the idea, but wary of suddenly adding that much to the budget.

 “I think it should be a separate question,” she said. “There are people in this town who don’t want to create a new department. I think $280,000 is low. Every department I have ever seen goes up every year. We could be throwing out a whole budget if we take this as a line item and stick it in our budget. I’ve never seen a budget suddenly have a line item of $280,000.”

“I think it could be jeopardizing our whole budget,” she added.

Brown said he would present his proposal at the upcoming Budget Board meeting.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Requesting the creation of a new town department with $280K in funding indicates how little
    this person understands the current financial condition of the town. This request would eat up 25% of the potential FY 25 budget and would impact other town operations, region funding as well as Glocester school funding. The town is bound by a 4% increase in the tax levy and unless another revenue source is found will be hard pressed to meet in the FY 25 budget. Like all other town departments the budget will continue to grow. You cannot just say I want $280K and not have a plan.
    Also, why should tax dollars be used to clean up private property?

  2. I’m one of the volunteers who has worked with Bill Brown for the last several years. He certainly has his act together, and is very dedicated to this important work. He has been a wonderful infuence to those of us who have worked very hard to get these cemeteries cleaned to the point where they can now be maintained on a regular basis. We’re the ones who have done the “hard part” by clearing away many years of overgrowth and reversed the neglect that has fallen upon these sacred places. Bill Brown and the Glocester Historical Cemeteries Committee is now leading the entire state in this kind of restoration, and we’re proud of what we have accomplished. We have all done it for free, and the reward we get is knowing that it’s simply the right thing to do. Most of us are older, and just getting tired. Bill Brown’s biggest concern is that if we are unable to keep it up, these important historical sites will fall back into the neglected stage they were in before we started the project. That would certainly be a shame to the town’s history – especially after all that has been done to get us this far.

  3. Yeah. Make the person who volunteered for five years to recover all those cemeteries put the budget together and define the public works department’s business for you. I’m sure that is something anyone could just do without any help or guidance.

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