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Ideas sought to let cemetery issues rest

POULSBO — The state of one of Little Norway’s final resting places is a topic that comes to a head almost annually for staff at Poulsbo Public Works.

And this year, they’re aiming to find out what the public thinks should — or perhaps should not — be done.

The Poulsbo Municipal Cemetery, near the north side of the intersection of Lincoln Road and Caldart Street, is estimated to be about 100 years old. It was originally the private burial site for children from the Martha & Mary orphanage and later moved onto the public records, although Martha & Mary still retains a block of plots there.

Poulsbo has about 2,900 full burial and 530 cremain plots total and of that, 1,162 full and 515 cremain have not yet been purchased. Unlike many municipal cemeteries, Poulsbo does not provide perpetual care services such as grave digging, headstones or liners — which are revenue sources. Families buying plots ($400 full burial or $200 cremain) receive a deed to the piece of land and city staff assist with record keeping, identifying plots and maintaining the grounds.

But the site is not irrigated, nor is it the only public space on the maintenance list for Public Works crews. There is also no annual maintenance fee charged to plot holders as is the case with many cemeteries. And almost like clockwork, the warm weather of summer brings more people out of doors and more complaints that the cemetery is not as well maintained as others locally.

“The problem is everything’s looking really good right now but when the weather gets hot, things start drying back and all you see is the weeds,” said Roz Heffner, office manager for Poulsbo Public Works, who oversees the documentation for the cemetery.

Currently, Public Works has a line item of about $5,000-$6,000 annually for cemetery maintenance. Given that mowing and trimming the area takes about 40 man-hours each time, there is not much left in the budget for anything more than the services already offered.

“I started here in 1986 and we mowed it on holidays and that was about it. But now we’re up there doing it on a weekly basis during the summer,” said Dan Wilson, Grounds and Vehicle Management Division head for Public Works. “The (level of service) has risen and that’s about all that has.”

Public Works staff have done cost analysis for increasing the care at the cemetery. Ideas range from upping the number of times the area is mowed and edged to adding an irrigation system. The estimated costs for these upgrades span from $27,000-$56,000 in annual maintenance and $15,000-$86,000 in one-time capital outlay.

“Given the level of resources the council has designated, there’s only so much we can do,” Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln commented.

And that’s where the public comes in.

Due to the unlikelihood that any extra funds will be coming in for the municipal cemetery, Public Works staff are looking for community members interested in working toward a solution. Lincoln said some ideas he had include founding a cemetery committee or association such as those found in Kingston or Hansville or even having a local volunteer, civic or genealogy group pledge to take over its maintenance.

“What we’re looking at is maybe the community has a better answer or maybe there’s enough interest to form a group,” he explained.

But there’s still a question of whether there is enough interest in making a change or if the majority like the cemetery the way it is. Though Public Works hears periodically from concerned citizens, the complaint frequency is not enough to indicate how many on a whole have issues with the site’s state.

“I think what we’re trying to do is gauge the community sentiment for creating something,” Lincoln explained.

“We also hear that a lot from people that they don’t want it changed because it’s an old, rustic cemetery and thats why they bought their plots there,” Heffner added.

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