Concerned families help push Perpetual Care Cemetery bill through the Senate

After years of disarray and poor conditions at a Jackson County cemetery, families are now hopeful that action will be taken to maintain upkeep for the final resting place where many of their loved ones are buried.

Concerned families help push Perpetual Care Cemetery bill through the Senate

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - For many families who have loved ones buried in Pascagoula, it has been a nightmare for years as they’ve endured the failing upkeep of the cemetery.

Now, thanks in large part to their efforts, a new bill has passed the Senate and is headed to the governor’s desk that will help not only them, but cemeteries throughout Mississippi.

The families of those interred at Jackson County Memorial Park on Ingalls Avenue in Pascagoula gathered Wednesday afternoon to hear more about Senate Bill 2261. The bill was written by Sen. Jeremy England and received assistance from Secretary of State Michael Watson to get pushed through and approved.

Once signed by the governor, the new law will allow counties and municipalities to recover money for upkeep and repairs to cemeteries directly from funds held in the cemeteries’ trust accounts. This will help local governments cover the costs of stepping in to maintain the properties in lieu of absent or delinquent owners.

The legislation will help statewide and was spearheaded by citizens with family members buried or interred at Jackson County Memorial Park.

For those families, the news came as a big sigh of relief. For years, they have been working together to keep the cemetery clean and maintained, saying the owner has failed to do so.

“It’s been in disarray for years and nobody seems to care,” said Jeff Saegert of Long Beach. “I buried my mother three years ago and the nameplate’s not on it yet.”

The road that winds through Jackson County Memorial Park is full of large holes, making it difficult for vehicles and funeral processions to make their way into the cemetery.
The road that winds through Jackson County Memorial Park is full of large holes, making it difficult for vehicles and funeral processions to make their way into the cemetery. (Source: WLOX)

Mickie Baria visits her parents’ graves at the same cemetery and said she has been sad and disheartened to see the poor conditions on the property.

“They had dug a new gravesite next to it and threw all the dirt over onto my parents’ graves,” said Baria. “We couldn’t even find the tombstones. It was covered up with dirt and mud.”

Secretary of State Michael Watson met Wednesday with families who have loved ones interred at Jackson County Memorial Park to explain how the Perpetual Care Cemetery bill works and what the next step is.
Secretary of State Michael Watson met Wednesday with families who have loved ones interred at Jackson County Memorial Park to explain how the Perpetual Care Cemetery bill works and what the next step is. (Source: WLOX)

Secretary of State Michael Watson met with these families and many others Wednesday to explain the bill in detail and inform the families how it would work if the governor signs it.

“We tried to get this to make it not overreaching, not overbearing, from the government, but again, a conservative balance of how do we approach this to make sure that the cemetery is taken care of,” said Watson. “Those contractual rights between an individual who buys a plot, let’s make sure that those are honored.”

Having the Secretary of State and Sen. England’s unwavering support and constant communication with the group has given the families hope that action will soon be taken.

“This is the beginning and I hope that something can be done soon because everybody is just going to get mad and give up if we don’t,” said Baria. “We’ve got to get something done.”

A crypt sits empty at the mausoleum inside Jackson County Memorial Park in Pascagoula.
A crypt sits empty at the mausoleum inside Jackson County Memorial Park in Pascagoula. (Source: WLOX)

The poor conditions at Jackson County Memorial Park date back to at least 2014, when the cemetery changed ownership. Since that time, many family members have reported unfinished grave sites, headstones sinking into the ground, and upended remains put in the wrong place.

The Perpetual Care Cemetery bill is a step forward in the right direction, said Sen. England, noting that it’s a bill he is particularly proud of.

“This group of concerned citizens and friends contacted me very soon after I was elected, and I promised them we’d work on getting something done. They visit their loved ones in deplorable conditions at this cemetery, and it broke my heart to hear what they’ve been through,” said England. “This is hopefully a solid first step in helping make repairs and improve conditions and I know it is done out of love and honor of those with their final resting place there.”

To read Senate Bill 2261 in full, click here.

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