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Improvements coming to neglected city cemeteries

Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 Lafayette Cemetery No. 2
St. Mary Cemetery St. Mary Cemetery
St. Mary Cemetery St. Mary Cemetery
Valence Street Cemetery Valence Street Cemetery
Valence Street Cemetery Valence Street Cemetery

New Orleans, La. - Melinda Alfonso grew up next to St. Mary Cemetery, eventually buying her grandmother's home just down the street. Her grandfather is buried there.

"As children, it never looked like this, it was maintained," she says. "I would say probably over the past 30 years, it just goes down."

The fence surrounding the cemetery is falling apart and empty beer bottles sit on the graves.

Alfonso's family pays for perpetual care but she doesn't see that money being used for upkeep. She complained to the city many times.

"I called down, asked for trash to be picked up," she says. "Some of the trash is too big for me to get into my trash can. Nothing ever happens. My last phone call was probably a month and a half ago, the same trash is still there."

St. Mary is one of six city-owned cemeteries scheduled for $2.7 million in improvements. Crews demolished the dilapidated caretaker cottage and plan to replace the fence in the next couple months.

Carrollton Number Two, on Adams Street between Spruce and Cohn, will also get a new fence.

Michael Zarou moved across from the Valence Street Cemetery four years ago.

"When I first came, I had these grandiose ideas about how we could raise money and put something other than a chain link fence up here because I just thought that it was so ugly," he says. "Now I'm just happy when they cut the grass."

The city plans to replace the fence at Valence and repair the cottage and road.

At Lafayette Cemeteries 1 and 2, the city is working with the Foundation for Historical Louisiana to rebuild the caretaker cottages.

Improvements will also be done at Holt Cemetery.

The projects should all begin later this summer.

Alfonso doesn't think the improvements will be enough if the city doesn't maintain its properties. The maintenance budget for the city's six cemeteries is small, just $73,000 for this year.

"I love my neighborhood but I'm kind of to the point that I want to sell," she says. "I'm tired of looking at blight 24/7 and it's not getting better."

Alfonso also thinks families need to clean up the graves. She says flowers often get left behind, turning into trash.

The $2.7 million for improvements is a combination of city and FEMA funds.

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