Lake Worth Beach city commissioners conducted their final hearing on Thursday night to discuss the city’s budget for 2024. However, the budget did not include funding for fencing at two local historic cemeteries.
Advocates in Lake Worth Beach took to the streets on Tuesday to protest the absence of fencing by forming a human chain around I.A. Banks Memorial Park. Carla Blockson, an advocate, questioned why the city was neglecting the needs of its residents and failing to prioritize the preservation of the cemeteries. Blockson emphasized that the significant number of people who participated in the human chain should have sent a clear message to the city.
The approved operating budget for Lake Worth Beach amounted to $191,520,610, while the capital improvement budget was set at $11,106,052. Blockson reiterated that the historic cemeteries deserved better treatment and protection, as they hold great historical significance. Mayor Betty Resch assured the community that she and other commissioners support the fencing project and would find a way to secure the necessary funds. Resch acknowledged the emotional impact of this issue on the community, stating that after everything the community had been through, they deserved respect. However, she also acknowledged the budget constraints and the need to prioritize certain projects.
According to the city’s fiscal year 2024 capital improvement program, building a gate and fence around Pinecrest Cemetery would cost $450,000, while fencing around I.A. Banks Memorial Park would require $125,000. Commissioner Reinaldo Diaz expressed his belief that law enforcement presence and enforcement might offer an alternative solution instead of installing fences. Diaz also noted that the estimated cost of $575,000 did not include the expenses associated with maintaining the fencing.
Captain Todd Baer from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office stated that neither I.A. Banks Memorial Park nor Pinecrest Cemetery were considered “hot spots” in terms of crime. However, he did mention that the sheriff’s office had responded to calls regarding issues such as overdose, burglary, and non-crime service calls at Pinecrest Cemetery. Some residents in the audience disagreed with these statistics, prompting Commissioner Sarah Malega to urge them to report any suspicious activities to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Blockson emphasized that many residents had loved ones buried in the cemeteries and had been patiently waiting for the installation of the much-needed fences. In response to the absence of funding in the budget, commissioners are planning to hold a workshop in the coming months to discuss the fencing project. They are also exploring the possibility of constructing a mausoleum to address the limited space issue.
When asked if they were disappointed that the fencing was not included in the budget, Blockson expressed her disappointment, stating that Lake Worth Beach has a tendency to postpone important matters until they are eventually forgotten.
Overall, the issue of fencing at Lake Worth Beach’s historic cemeteries has sparked a passionate debate within the community. While advocates emphasize the importance of preserving the cemeteries and providing security, city commissioners face the challenge of balancing limited funds and prioritizing various projects.