"This is really disgusting. This is not a place for our poor people to be buried."
That was the reaction of advocates for the poor and homeless upon visiting the South Annex at Oatka Cemetery in the Town of Wheatland. That's where the majority of Monroe County's indigent are buried.
It's an area many call a Potter's field that is separate from other burial plots. Some of the indigent graves are marked with an actual grave stone, while others are identified with a homemade marker, or one provided by a funeral home.
“Just let their families speak up and tell them where they want their family members to be buried instead of burying them out here in this cemetery that you can't see anything or know where your family member is buried at,” said Shyquain Woods, Rochester.
Legislators Cindy Kaleh and Willie Lightfoot are proposing legislation aimed at cementing a dignified burial policy. It would require that cemeteries contracting with the county provide equal maintenance for all plots that include proper drainage, lawn care, marker maintenance, and visibility.
"One that shows respect for anyone that's utilizing it and is consistent so that we don't have to dig for information and everyone's on the same playing field,” said Kaleh, (D).
Back in 2006, the county's burial assistance program was slashed from $1,850 to $1,250. Part of this legislation would restore that funding to the $1,850 level.
Lightfoot's portion of the legislation would have the county make cuts to other areas in an effort restore that $600 to the burial fund.
"We're looking at taking away some of the take home cars, monies from there. We're looking at office supplies being reduced by ten percent. We're looking at taking the vacant position that's currently available now in the county administration, we're looking at taking that and save some money there,” said Lightfoot, (D). “There's basically about six different areas where we're looking and proposing to save some money to help restore this money."
Since many of the poor and homeless buried in the South Annex of Oatka Cemetery come from the city of Rochester, Democratic legislators would like for the county to provide the poor an affordable choice that is in closer proximity to the city.
"Folks know where Oatka Creek Cemetery is. It is way out; it’s 17 and a half miles from the city and it doesn't Google when you look for it," Kaleh said.
YNN reached out to the Legislature's Republican Caucus for reaction to the Democratic plan but received no response.