Bill makes sure: Goldsboro veterans cemetery will not close

Posted June 27
Updated June 28

Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery

— Whatever snafu temporarily threatened the Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Goldsboro, a legislative amendment makes it clear the cemetery will remain open.

A lack of $200,000 in the $23 billion state budget recently approved by the General Assembly was trumpeted as an emergency earlier this week, with Gov. Roy Cooper's administration suggesting the lack of maintenance funding could force the facility to close and the state to pay back a $5 million federal grant used to build it.

Legislative leaders said Tuesday it was the administration's mistake, that there's plenty of money at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs but Cooper's budget office failed to include funding for the cemetery in its initial presentation to the legislature. They also accused the administration of resorting to scare tactics.

The administration then pointed to page 69 of its budget proposal, which shows nearly $579,000 a year in new general fund money for veterans cemetery staffing, a cost-shift for funds that used to come from outside the state's general fund. That funding doesn't appear in the final budget approved by the legislature, though the General Assembly did preserve some $477,000 in cemetery staffing costs from past years.

"While it’s good that legislators now want to keep this property open, casting blame and playing shell games with the budget of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is not in the best interest of North Carolina veterans or military families," Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in an email.

At the end of the day, a two-paragraph amendment to House Bill 486, which otherwise deals with in-state college tuition for veterans, forbids the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs from closing any state-owned veterans cemeteries. It also orders the department to maintain current levels of operations at each cemetery and tells Cooper's budget office to rework its figures and cover costs from outside receipts.

The amendment came Tuesday evening from state Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, who spoke passionately on the floor of his time in the Air Force and his job preparing bodies for burial.

"I buried hundreds of people," Davis said. "I put their last uniform on. I put their ribbons on.

"We need to make this right with our residents and our community right now," he said.

The amendment and underlying bill passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday and the House unanimously on Wednesday, sending it to Cooper.


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