Cranston City Council approves ordinance to hold private cemeteries accountable for upkeep

West Bay

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The Cranston City Council passed an ordinance Monday that would hold the owners of private cemeteries accountable for keeping records and reporting finances to the city.

The council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance, which was co-sponsored by Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and Council President Chris Paplauskas, and aims to prevent cemeteries from being neglected.

The ordinance calls for or cemeteries to keep a record of the disposition of human remains and provide the city with an annual filing of the cemeteries’ financial condition and status to prevent grounds from becoming blighted and negligent.

“It’s just heartbreaking, right, when you have cemeteries that are being abandoned or being neglected,” Vargas said. “I mean, so many family members have reached out to me…folks who have their family members buried at cemeteries across the city.”

Vargas said the ordinance doesn’t point the finger at any one cemetery, but in the committee hearing two weeks ago, residents spoke up about the conditions at Oakland Cemetery on Broad Street.

“It’s like a dump, I’m sorry to say,” Providence resident Vivian Medina said at the meeting. “It’s been like a dump for quite a bit and it’s sad to see it.”

12 News reported in June that the cemetery was littered with trash and debris, some of which was completely covering gravestones. The city cleaned up the trash after receiving a complaint from a family member of someone buried there.

“That’s what we’re trying to avoid from happening in the near future with any other cemeteries we have. Cranston has over 160 cemeteries,” Vargas said.

Before Monday’s vote, Mayor Ken Hopkins’ Director of Administration Anthony Moretti raised some red flags when it came to the language in the ordinance.

Vargas fired back, saying she tried to get the administration to work with her on the ordinance but never got a response.

“On this particular issue that I have asked the administration to work together on this months after months, and there’s been no response whatsoever from the administration. Then you come for this to come out of committee and then come before the entire city council on this issue… it’s appalling,” Vargas said.

A consensus was reached that the ordinance would pass and the changes would be made and be brought before the council at the next meeting.

Vargas hopes other cities and towns in the state will follow in Cranston’s footsteps, and that the state might create a similar bill.

“Maybe a state rep or a state senator would be able to actually hop on and be able to sponsor a bill very similar to the one that this ordinance is passed on because I’m hearing that there’s other cities and towns that are having somewhat similar issues with private cemeteries,” Vargas said. “Hopefully, we can be a model to other cities and towns at the same time.”

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