Passionate about his job is how to best describe Newcomerstown Cemetery Superintendent Mike Bryant.
"It breaks my heart to look out there and not keep the place the way it should be," Bryant said regarding the appearance of West Lawn Cemetery in Newcomerstown.
Cuts to the Cemetery Fund have made a significant impact on the facility's upkeep.
Bryant is the only employee at the Cemetery Department. The department, which maintains three cemeteries in the village as well as opens and closes graves, did have three seasonal employees, one full-time employee and the superintendent who is also full-time.
With the fund in the red more than $150,000, the department had been cut back to only one full time-employee and that is Bryant.
"The standards that I'm expected to maintain at this place are very high," he said.
However, his ability is being pushed to the limit because he's the only one in the department.
He maintains 28 acres at West Lawn Cemetery, 11 acres at State Street Cemetery and one acre at Pioneer Cemetery. He also opens and closes each grave with a 1972 Davis Fleet backhoe that is constantly breaking down, does all the concrete work for the graves, does all the mowing and trimming in the cemeteries, and sells lots.
Because of this, Bryant actually works more like 90 to 100 hours every two weeks rather than the 80 he is paid for. Being an auto mechanic by trade, he usually repairs all the equipment which saves the village money.
"I try not to spend any money," Bryant said.
He said he has cut spending in the department from 42 to 48 percent over that past two years.
"I've given a lot of blood, sweat and tears (here)," Bryant said. He has worked at the Cemetery Department for more than 20 years.
In terms of how much grave lots sales are, he said a two-grave lot costs $600. One third of that goes into a maintenance trust (that can be used for cemetery upkeep and maintenance) and the other two-thirds goes into village's General Fund.
Usually, he said he has 50 to 75 interments a year.
In another cost-saving measure, Newcomerstown Village Council made Bryant work 32 to 40 hours every two weeks for the Newcomerstown Street Department. By doing so, a portion of his paycheck is paid from the Street Department Fund and not the financially-strapped Cemetery Fund.
"I've made several suggestions on how to cut this (deficit)," Bryant said but noted nothing has been accepted by Village Council.
Therefore, Newcomerstown Village Council voted to place a 1-1/2 mill, five-year cemetery levy on the ballot to help the department. If approved by voters in November, the levy would generate $70,000 annually.
But with Bryant not at the West Lawn Cemetery, he is not able to sell any lots or answer any questions about loved ones buried in the cemetery.
Just last week, Bryant was working late on the cemetery's upkeep and a woman from Alaska was in the cemetery looking for her lot that she had purchased. He said if he wasn't there, he wouldn't have been able to help that woman and she was only in Newcomerstown one day.
Showing compassion for people's loved ones is just another part of Bryant's job.
"It does a lot for my heart but it's also good for business," Bryant said. "I have a pretty big heart."
He said he cares about the cemetery and cares about the people of this village.
"I have a lot of respect for the dead," Bryant said. "And the family that's left afterwards is also my concern."
(Editor's Note: The Cemetery Board, which consists of Dave Mason, Tom Bourne and Leman Clark, meets the fourth Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at the West Lawn Cemetery garage. The meeting are open to the public.)