Johnstown City Council is set to discuss applying for a state grant of about $300,000 to improve the city’s efforts to maintain and restore its approximately 18 abandoned rural cemeteries.
Councilman Tim Rizzo said he will present his proposal to apply for a grant to the rest of council at the June 3 council workshop meeting.
“I’m going to shoot for $275,000 to $300,000, and that should be enough to get a good chunk of whatever is done to uphold the law of what the city owes these cemeteries,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo said the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District informed him that the best route to receive state funding for rural cemeteries is to apply for money through the annual consolidated funding application process. (CFA) of New York State for a grant from the New York State Office. of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which has a 75% matching grant that it offers to economically distressed areas like the city of Johnstown for development or projects “to preserve, rehabilitate or restore lands, waters or structures, identified in approved management plans for heritage areas designated under section 35.03 of the Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Act.
Rizzo said the grant program will allow the City of Johnstown to retroactively include the $10,000 budget it has allocated to its rural cemeteries each of the past two years as part of the local match for the 25-year bond. % of the city towards the cost of the grant, if the money is awarded by the State of New York.
In recent years, Rizzo has raised the issue of the City of Johnstown’s legal obligations under New York State Municipal Law 291, which gives the City Council responsibility for maintaining old abandoned rural cemeteries, many of which are located on city farms.
At the June 21, 2021, city council meeting, Rizzo “surprised” council with a presentation from Saratoga Springs-based landscape engineering firm The LA Group, the company that designed the Gerald BH Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery. in the 1990s.
The LA Group has proposed a $15,000 plan to conduct a study that would establish an inventory of all city-owned rural cemeteries, a list, so far as it can be determined, of the graves they contain, and to develop a plan for what needs to be done to rehabilitate them and bring the city into compliance with Municipal Law 291. At the time, Rizzo and the LA Group argued that the study could be used as a basis for applying for grants state or federal in order to obtain the money necessary to carry out the rehabilitation. work.
But the majority of the city council at the time were unwilling to fund the $15,000 study, with several saying they thought the city could incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs if it had to one day come into compliance with state laws on rural cemeteries. .
Since then, Town Supervisor Jack Wilson has established a Rural Cemetery Committee, which includes town historian Noel Levee, who has worked to clean up and inventory known rural cemeteries in the town of Johnstown, which are since gone from about 14 to 18, and maybe more.
At the May city council meeting, Rizzo said members of the rural committee are currently investigating the possibility of a hidden slave cemetery on the city’s farmland.
“It could be a historically significant thing there,” Rizzo said, referring to the possibility that additional funding might be possible if a slave graveyard could be uncovered. “The (history) books say no, it didn’t happen, but, all of a sudden, (research by rural cemetery committee members) the records say ‘yes, it did happen.’ There is a conflict between two deeds. The original deed says there is a cemetery, but the second deed says there is not, and the deed is after the abolition of the slavery…so it’s like they’re trying to erase the fact that they had slaves, or servants, in the town of Johnstown.
Rizzo said he believes this time around he has enough support in the city council to go ahead with the grant application.