Goldsboro, N.C. — In planning the $23 billion state budget, lawmakers left out money for maintenance and jobs at the new Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Goldsboro, an omission that could force the state's newest resting place for veterans to close.
If that happens, the state could owe money – it could have to pay back the $5 million federal grant used to build the facility.
The North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs requested $200,000 for maintenance of the cemetery, but the legislature allotted none and eliminated funding for five jobs at the site.
The cemetery, dedicated less than two years ago, currently has 264 graves, with a capacity of nearly 6,500. There are more than 400 families who have pre-registered to have a veteran laid to rest there.
"We are treating this as an emergency that requires immediate attention," agency secretary Larry Hall said.
Families like those of Lee Lambeth are worried the cemetery gates will be locked, leaving them without a way to visit their departed loved ones.
Michelle Mooring said that, while a shutdown would sadden her, it would anger her father.
"He believed very deeply in his country. He was a very proud American," she said. "He believed in fighting for what was right, and he believed in family.
"My dad was very outspoken. He would have been angry. He would have been livid."
George Hicks, who buried his father last year, was just confused by the legislature's action.
"I don't understand why they didn't fund it," Hicks said. "They knew the cemetery was here. It's no big secret."
Hall, too, questioned the motive behind the cut. "I don't think it's a lack of resources, I think it's a lack of determination," he said.
While Gov. Roy Cooper has promised to veto the budget, the legislature has the votes to override him. The budget would take effect July 1, meaning the cemetery could be closed by the weekend.
"They are told the whole time they are in the service they will be taken care of," Mooring said. "To me, and I'm sure if [my father] were alive, he would say the same thing, this is a slap in the face to them."
Cooper on Monday said he'd look for another way to keep the cemetery open.
"I will look at this provision to see if there is something we can do from an administrative level. Obviously, it's something that hurts a particular community. We want to send the right message to our veterans," he said.