The city is looking for people who purchased a cemetery plot from the city and then didn’t pay for it, who collectively owe the city between $20,000 and $25,000.

As part of the effort to streamline the way the city works, the Public Services Department has taken over the billing for cemetery lots, and in the process has discovered a series of lots that were not fully paid for.

Public Services Director Tom Eldridge said shortly after Public Services took over the billing when the department merged with the Cemetery Department, the problems of the unpaid bills surfaced. Deputy Director John Emerson is working to contact the owners of the lots, or their families in an attempt to clear up the problem.

Emerson said initial calculations show the city has about $20,000 to $25,000 in unpaid bills for cemetery lots, though in some cases the bills have been outstanding for decades.

Finance Director Susan Rossignol said over the years, the city used a manual accounting system to bill families for burial plots in city-owned cemeteries and in some cases, the bills were never paid.

Rossignol said no deeds were issued for any of the plots that were not paid in full, and in most cases there were no burials in any of those plots.

The city is currently looking at a plan to resell any lots that were not fully paid for and the purchasers of the plots can’t be found. However, in the case where the plot has already been used for a burial, reselling that plot is not an option.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the city would most likely write off those plots as uncollectible where there has been a burial and the purchaser or their estate can’t be located to pay the rest of the debt.

In the past, the billing for burial plots was handled at the Parks Department, which has since been merged with the Public Services Department. Former Parks Department Director John Marcellino said he knew of some cases where residents were allowed to make partial payments for lots, but he had nothing to do with following up to ensure the bills were paid.

The city has changed its policy when it comes to burial plots, Rossignol said. Now, no burials are allowed until the plot is completely paid for and the deed for the plot has been issued.

The city handles most of the finances for the cemeteries, though the three-member board of trustees still maintains several accounts for care of individual graves. Arthur Gordon, a member of the board of trustees, said the trustees accept money from private donations in trust for certain graves. That money is invested, and the trustees use the interest from those accounts to pay for things like seasonal flowers for those graves.

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