SOUTH PORTLAND — The city council spoke in favor of hiring a staff member to help maintain city cemeteries during a workshop on Aug. 24.

The state of Maine requires that municipalities maintain the gravestones, memorials and markers of veterans, which includes trimming grass, weeds and brush, said City Manager Scott Morelli. Because selective grooming is nearly impossible, South Portland does maintain entire sites, without receiving state funding.

South Portland recently took ownership of Bayview Cemetery and has custodial duties for Brown’s Hill, he said.

“We are forced into a situation where if the trustees are going defunct and they can’t find other trustees, we’re obligated to accept, at least, the maintenance if not ultimately the ownership,” Morelli said.

In order to help with the maintenance, city staff have proposed ordinance amendments that could allow South Portland to either contract a sexton, who can provide cemetery management and expertise, and/or form a cemetery commission that would be responsible for creating rules, Morelli said. Staff doesn’t recommend the creation of a commission, but in 2020, the city council expressed interest in exploring the option.

Councilors said they are not in favor of creating a commission, but spoke in support of hiring a sexton and also discussed the possibility of having volunteers assist with maintenance or historical records.

A small group of volunteers may be an option, said Councilor April Caricchio.

“I wish there were a way to have citizen involvement to really bring to life how much rich history we have in the cemeteries, so I would propose we would keep a small three-member board that maybe could be a liaison between the cemetery work and the historical society,” Caricchio said. “I’m guessing some of the folks in the historical society may have an interest there.”

Cemeteries can serve residents as valuable open spaces, said Councilor Kate Lewis.

“There’s important history there and also these are really important open spaces for the city,” she said. “I think a lot of people consider the peace and solitude and beauty of these places as on par with some of our other parks and open spaces, so I appreciate that we’re giving this good attention.”

Karl Coughlin, director of South Portland Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, said that the department is going to reorganize staff to create a conservation manager position, who will be charged with volunteer management.

“That’s just not going to be in parks themselves,” he said. “That’s going to be in cemeteries, too. So wrangling up volunteers for cemetery maintenance, trail maintenance, whatever it may be, is going to be one of the main charges of that conservation management position.”

The council will make an official decision on proposed rules and regulations to city-owned cemeteries at a future meeting. The rules apply to Bayview and Brown’s Hill cemeteries.

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