LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — Lake Worth Beach city commissioners held their final hearing on the city's 2024 budget Thursday night. Not included in the budget was fencing for two local historic cemeteries.
Advocates in Lake Worth Beach on Tuesday protested for the fencing by forming a human chain around I.A. Banks Memorial Park.
"Why are we doing this to the people who live there, and aren't they a priority?" advocate Carla Blockson said. "As many people who showed up for the human fence, that should've sent a message to the city that this is their priority as well."
The operating budget was approved for $191,520,610 and $11,106,052 for the capital improvement budget.
"This is our history. These are historic cemeteries, and the desecration that's been going on and the disrespect that's been going on can't be allowed to continue, and a fence would solve the problem," Blockson said.
Lake Worth Beach Mayor Betty Resch said she along with other commissioners are in support of the fencing, promising to find the money to fund the project.
"This is obviously a very important, very emotional issue for the community, and after everything that community went through over the year, they deserve a little respect," Resch said. "When you don't have enough money to do everything you want to do, you have to pick and choose."
According to the city's fiscal year 2024 capital improvement program, it would cost $450,000 to build a gate and fence around Pinecrest Cemetery, and $125,000 for fencing around I.A. Banks Memorial Park.
"There's something else that needs to happen and that's enforcement and presence of law enforcement and things like that that if we do have those issues maybe there's another way we can resolve it without this added expense," Lake Worth Beach City Commissioner Reinaldo Diaz said.
Diaz said the $575,000 wouldn't include the cost of maintaining the fencing.
"It's on the list. It's a priority. We love our cemetery. It's historic, and it needs to be so much better," Diaz said. "I think there's plenty of opportunity there, and we're just finding the roadmap with balancing the other needs of the city."
According to Capt. Todd Baer with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, neither the I.A. Banks Memorial Park nor the Pinecrest Cemetery are on their radar as a "hot spot."
He said at Pinecrest Cemetery that the sheriff's office has responded 16 times in two years for calls about overdose, burglary to the city building, assault and non-crime service calls.
Residents in the audience disagreed with the statistics, causing Commissioner Sarah Malega to urge residents to call PBSO at (561) 688-3400 if they see anything suspicious.
"Many of them have mothers, fathers, sisters brothers buried there," Blockson said. "They've been waiting, they've been asking, they've been patient."
Commissioners are hoping to host a workshop for the fencing in the coming months and are even looking into a possible mausoleum at the cemeteries to help with the limited space.
"Are you disappointed the fencing wasn't in the budget?" asked WPTV Reporter Joel Lopez.
"Yes, we have a tendency in Lake Worth to push the can down the road, and eventually the can is just lost," Blockson replied.