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Officials looking into complaints about cemetery

July 28, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

SHARPSBURG - When Doris Knode-Exline went to bury her husband in the Mountain View Cemetery 16 months ago, she found a road had been paved over part of his burial plot and two vacant lots belonging to her family.

"People were amazed we were burying him under a road," said Knode-Exline, 58, of Hagerstown.

The March 1998 day she and family members arrived for the burial they saw that part of the road had been dug up to create the grave, Knode-Exline said.

Knode-Exline has other concerns about the general maintenance of the cemetery, but said she has had trouble finding someone to help.

After months of writing letters and talking to officials with the cemetery, Sharpsburg, Washington County and the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight, Knode-Exline may finally be getting somewhere.

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Steven Sklar, director of the cemetery oversight office, recently determined that the private cemetery falls under the office's regulatory jurisdiction because it is nonprofit and nonreligious.

Sklar said he has begun talks with Bruce Poole, the Hagerstown attorney representing the cemetery's board of directors, to address Knode-Exline's concerns.

Poole said board members met in early July to discuss the matter and he was trying to contact Knode-Exline.

"She would like things to work faster than they have been and I concur with her," but the oversight office is going as fast as it can, Sklar said.

Sklar sent a representative to check out the cemetery and was told it wasn't as bad as the complaints made it sound.

Knode-Exline said the road was moved after she complained.

"I certainly wasn't there ... when this was allegedly done, but there's no evidence that the road was over what is now grass," Poole said.

Knode-Exline said she also is concerned about the general maintenance of the cemetery, which was incorporated in 1883.

Her concerns run from damaged headstones to flowers left by loved ones being thrown away.

Poole said the cemetery's policy, which states flowers will be removed after 10 days during mowing season, will be posted to clear up any confusion.

Knode-Exline said the flowers shouldn't be removed if they are put in containers that are part of the headstones.

Knode-Exline said she wrote cemetery officials asking to be reimbursed for about $220 worth of flowers that were left on Easter and removed about 10 days later.

Poole said the board has not told him to reimburse Knode-Exline. He said the flowers were removed because eventually they would have died and the wind would have scattered them throughout the cemetery.

Poole said headstones are not the cemetery's responsibility, unless cemetery workers caused the damage.

"Obviously we cannot give pristine round the clock service, but generally the property's in good enough shape," Poole said.

Cemetery board members are volunteers who have other jobs, Poole said. The board would gladly accept volunteers, help or funds, he said.

Board member Carolyn Shaw said a perpetual care fund was started in 1997 for the 10-acre cemetery. The fund doesn't have enough income yet to pay for maintenance, which is coming out of the operating funds, she said.

The perpetual care fund is supported by donations and 10 percent of plot purchases, but only income from the investment can be spent, said Shaw and a letter addressed to burial plot owners.

The cemetery, which has no room to expand, is about 70 percent full, the letter said.

"Several cemeteries in Sharpsburg are abandoned and are eyesores to the community. We hope to avoid this at Mountain View," the letter states.

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