By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal
CORINTH – The Secretary of State’s office served at least 800 cemetery contract owners during individual meetings Thursday and Friday.
People who had purchased pre-need services at Forrest Memorial Park in Corinth and Oaklawn Memorial Park in Booneville were asked to bring copies of their contracts to leave with Secretary of State staff.
They also got answers to some of their questions, though some questions cannot be answered as yet.
“We’re trying to verify if cemetery records are current and up to date,” said Assistant Secretary of State David Scott. “These are very important records along with the registry of burials. They will help us in understanding the extent of the cemeteries’ liabilities and determine if the records we received were properly maintained.”
The cemeteries, previously owned by Wayne Hight of Corinth, were placed in receivership last month after pre-need trust accounts were found to be underfunded by more than half a million dollars. Judge John Ross of Corinth was named receiver.
Corinth resident Ora Winters brought her paperwork to the Alcorn County Justice Center to discuss with one of the five staff members who were helping cemetery customers.
“We bought burial plots at Forrest Memorial back in 1987,” Winters said. “We had our deeds and they told us we’re OK.”
Winters said she knew the Hight family personally and was surprised to learn about financial problems at the cemetery.
“I knew the cemetery needed a lot of work done, but just thought they’d been busy,” she said.
She’s comforted by having the Secretary of State’s office take the lead and answer many of the questions she and others have had.
“Judge Ross will handle the necessary interments as needed and maintain the properties as best he can with limited funds,” Scott said.
At the same time that it’s important to continue operations at the cemeteries, the Secretary of State’s staff will be working to uncover all of the liabilities connected to the properties and find any assets that may be available to pay claims of contract owners.
At some point, he said, the properties will come out of receivership and be sold back into private hands through a court-ordered process. They’ll need to show a potential purchaser that the cemetery records are as current as they can be, which will help the economic value of the cemeteries.
“We know the cemeteries have been pledged as collateral for as much as $1.6 million of debt,” Scott said. “We’ll be negotiating with lenders and working to resolve legal issues.”