BUCKFIELD — A law passed in July to preserve the grounds where veterans are buried is slated to take effect in October and is stirring up financial worry in the town.

The law — LD 274 — has several stipulations: That veteran grave sites must remain level or be regraded if the site has sunk three or more inches compared to surrounding ground.

The headstones or markers must be maintained in the proper height and orientation.

The inscription on headstones or markers must be visible and legible.

The grass at the site may be between 1.5 to 2.5 inches but not more than three inches.

Flat grave markers must remain free of grass and debris.

The burial place must remain free of fallen trees, branches, vines and weeds.

The requirements are to be met from May 1 to Sept. 30 each year.

During the Aug. 6 selectmen meeting, the issues were raised by the town manager and selectmen.

“It doesn’t say if it’s requested, it says you will do it for any veteran’s grave anywhere in any town, and they didn’t give the town any money to do this,” Town Manager Dana Lee told the board.

Lee, an Army veteran from 1980-1982, explained that the veterans in question need not be combat veterans, just anyone who has served in the armed forces. He also expressed that the town was established in 1793 and as such, the town may face more than $20,000-$25,000 worth of stones to repair.

An issue that Selectman Cheryl Coffman brought up was that if the law includes all veterans, combat or not, does the town have a way of knowing who those people are?

Talk of try to form a committee or ask for volunteers to keep up with the mandate were discussed, but officials were unsure how to pay for it.

In a follow-up, Lee stated, “Very few, if any, Maine towns can afford another unfunded mandate despite the underlying good the law seeks to accomplish.”

The only opposing vote in the house chamber came from state Rep. Terry M. Hayes, D-Buckfield.

“It’s an unfunded mandate on the municipalities across the state … It’s a timing issue,” she said.

“I know there will be folks who will want to paint me as an unpatriotic veteran-hater. I am not. I still appreciate those who have served on our behalf, it’s just the ratcheting up the expenses for towns across the state in a time when the state is cutting the revenues. I don’t know how they expect to pay for this,” Hayes said.

Hayes implied that Buckfield has seven cemeteries that are the town’s responsibility. She worries that the stone work will drive up the costs for every municipality in Maine. She also suggested that this fiscal year will not see much of a difference as the change will not take effect until May 2014, but come fiscal year 2015 and onward, the towns will start to see the effects and have to budget accordingly.

State Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who proposed the bill stated, “…I’m very supportive of veterans. Without them and what they’ve done for this country, I wouldn’t be sitting in (the) Maine State Legislature, ” he said. “We need to honor them. The way the law was in the past, it was only war veterans that we had to take care of in old cemeteries. This expands it to all veterans, because their chance in the service just by happenstance they weren’t in a worse situation, they well could have been. They signed their check at the bottom of their personal life saying, ‘You know if you need me, you got me.'”

When asked how he expects towns to pay for the unfunded mandate, Saviello answered, “I don’t have much sympathy when they tell me they can’t find the money.”

Saviello also spoke of a selectman who had reservations of LD 274 from another town and said, “Buck it up, buddy. Buck it up and take care of them.”

Saviello said if a town cannot figure out whose grave it is because the marker has been rubbed away, then the least the town can do is place a flag to honor the veteran. He said he does not know what the penalties will be if the law is not kept up.

Hayes also suggested that the penalties are unclear.

Saviello is also a selectman in Wilton, which he says contains 22 small cemeteries with veterans interred. “I’m going to sit there and I’m going to figure out a way to fund the thing. I mean if I have to, I’ll have a bake sale. Tell the gentleman in Buckfield to have a bake sale,” he said.

“To say ‘I don’t have the money,’ I don’t buy that as an excuse, Saviello said. “If I can’t find the grave, if I can’t find the cemetery, if I can’t find out who it is, that’s a legitimate excuse. But to tell me you can’t take care of it, that falls on deaf ears for me,” he said.

Big projects under way include excavating Jordan, Purkis, High, Cross, East Buckfield and North Buckfield roads through D & D Excavating. The town aims to have them complete by late October so it can pave in November.

They also do not have a fire station but will be entering into negotiations with Port City Architecture and hoping to break ground in May 2014, the same month regulations for LD 274 will begin.


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