By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — It’s been a recurring problem and concern for years among people with loved ones buried at Hilldale Cemetery.
The private burial ground has been a haunt for vandals and illegal dumping, and the cemetery board has had trouble keeping the grass mowed and performing other basic maintenance.
Mayor James Fiorentini said his office receives complaints regularly about the poor condition of the cemetery, but that the city is limited in what it can do because it is privately owned.
“I know the trustees don’t have a lot of money, and neither does the city,” the mayor said. “And we can’t spend public money on a private cemetery anyway.”
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the condition of the cemetery at tomorrow’s meeting at 7 p.m. in City Hall. Councilor Michael Hart said he was contacted by a resident who wishes to address the council about the matter.
“About the best we can do is send the trustees a letter asking them to mow the grass and to try to do better,” Hart said. “I’m not sure what else we can do, but we’ll see.”
Fiorentini said he’ll join the council in sending a similar letter to the trustees.
Thomas Spitalere, chairman of the cemetery trustees, said his all-volunteer board is doing its best to take care of the property.
“We are raising money for a lawn mower and for other work,” said Spitalere, who was unaware of the council’s plans to discuss the cemetery at its meeting. “We have had some volunteers in there to cut the lawn, and we’ve also had some Eagle Scouts help out.”
Since taking charge of the private cemetery in 2009, Spitalere said he and other volunteers have spent countless hours mowing the grass, picking up trash, removing brush and downed tree limbs, and working to clear the central lawn area as a future burial site.
He said they have also had to combat vandalism, including several fires that were intentionally set and damaged gravestones, fence posts that were spray-painted, toppled headstones, and trespassing by riders of dirt bikes and other recreational vehicles which tear up grassy areas.