Alma discusses cemetery issues and solutions

Ty Thompson
Press Argus-Courier
Alma City Council discussed solutions to possible problems facing the Alma Cemetery at their March 8 study session

The Alma City Council has discussed possible problems at the Alma Cemetery that were brought up at a previous meeting. 

An Alma citizen asked at the previous city council meeting for the city to look into the state in which the Alma Cemetery is currently in. The citizen did not specify what problems she was referring to. She was not present at the study session.

Jerry Martin, mayor of Alma, said the cemetery is regularly mowed and maintained, but there is a tree that needs to be removed as it is leaning and could create possible problems in the future with damage to grave markers that would not be able to be replaced.

The city attempted to remove the tree last year, but due to weather issues and wet ground, they couldn't get the proper equipment in to safely remove it. This was prior to the beginning of the pandemic and which made operations like this harder to continue. 

Martin also mentioned that a pile of dirt at the back of the cemetery that is used for topping off graves has sunk and is being used by a neighboring resident to dispose of leftover food.

A building at the cemetery has had graffiti, but the city gets rid of it as quickly as they can, he added.

"They're doing a better job of keeping it clean now," said Martin.

There are some graves in the cemetery that aren't marked. When the city took over the Alma Cemetery around 2015, the records were not in good shape, according to Martin. Previous Alma Planning Director Buddy Gray was working on maintaining the records prior to his resignation. The work has not been picked back up by Cody Schindler, who is the new planning director, but the project is in the works. 

Income for the cemetery for 2021 has been $2,600, which is a larger number from last year's income of $1,650. Unless a plot is sold, the only revenue that the cemetery receives is through donations. 

In 2020, the city budget raised the expenses up to $1,500 in order to cover the cost of the tree removal. This year the expenses were brought down to $1,000. With the inclusion of equipment, fuel, and upkeep, Martin said they spend more than they receive.

City council member Gary Perry asked if there is a possibility for grants that can be utilized for the cemetery in order to have more money for future upkeep. Martin said that he has not seen any, but will keep an eye out for them.

In Fort Smith, a nonprofit organization has taken management over several cemeteries. 

"It's been a struggle with Alma cemetery," said city council member Eddie Wakefield. "You hear more and more about it with other cities too."

Martin said that he has looked into the possibility of getting volunteer work through a nonprofit, but after seeing the grounds that had been maintained he decided it wasn't best for the city.

"It ends up being maintained when they can get to it," said Martin. 

The city maintains the cemetery once a week unless the weather is bad. The priorities for the city Maintainance Department in order of importance are the walking trails, the pier at the lake, Alma City Park, the waterpark, Popeye Park, and the cemetery. 

"We either spend all day at the cemetery or we have to get over to Popeye Park or the waterpark," said Martin. "We could get to the cemetery as quick as we could."

Perry said that he will speak to the citizen and ask what problems she has so that the city can address them properly.