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Lexington County Coroner says constructing county cemetery for indigent just makes good sense

Batesburg-Leesville, SC (Paul Kirby) – Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher and her staff are closely watching the construction of a cemetery in the Batesburg-Leesville area. The site, located on South Lee Street across from the county’s convenience station, will be the final resting place for people who die in Lexington County but have no means for their final expenses. According to Fisher, this county owned cemetery will not only save Lexington County taxpayers’ money, but more importantly, it ensures those who’ve died without money or have gone unclaimed, will have the dignity of a proper end of life service that all human beings deserve.

“This will not be a Potter’s Field,” Fisher said in May while attending a picnic to honor first responders, ironically co-hosted by a funeral home. “This will be a real cemetery. It will be more in line with the green sites that are becoming more and more popular today,” she said. Later by e-mail she said that the types of headstones used to mark the graves will be inline with the green ones around. Those have stones that are unpolished, more natural. "Unless someone told you differently, you couldn’t distinguish our cemetery from a privately owned cemetery,” Coroner Fisher said.

Fisher and her staff have made ensuring the dignity and the respect of someone who’s died and their families a top priority since she became the coroner. Her mission of providing caring compassionate service just comes naturally to her. “Death should be a time to honor the good times of someone’s life,” Fisher said at the same picnic last May in Red Bank. “It should also be a time to start a conversation about the history of a family. No matter the circumstances at their death, everyone was someone’s child at one time. There was laughter, smiles, and good times in a life. That’s what’s celebrated at a funeral. At our cemetery, those times can be remembered, and people’s remains won’t just be placed somewhere in a forgotten corner. Here, families can come visit and their life stories can be passed to other generations.”

In the past, when the indigent died and no one could afford their funeral, the county usually had them cremated and those remains were interred in plots in a commercial cemetery; a business. There usually wasn’t much of a service; it was just a means of disposing of the remains. The county bought these plots in bulk and what they owned was filling up fast.

This system never sat well with Fisher or the staff she’s built around herself. As many local cemeteries were purchased by large corporations, the cost of purchasing the spaces the spots got more expensive. “The county owned the land in Batesburg-Leesville already,” Fisher said. “This made sense for our hearts and the budget. This is much more affordable, dignified and caring,” Fisher said.

The Lexington County Council and County Administrator Joe Mergo have been incredibly supportive of this project according to Fisher. Mergo has been using his years of professional experience to personally oversee the construction process with the help of county staff. This means they are building a top-notch cemetery at very little cost to the citizens. Fisher says that when the site is completed and ready to open sometime in the fall, its total cost will be about $75,000. According to Fisher, it should have the capacity to serve the people of Lexington County for decades to come.

Mergo has taken steps like using asphalt grindings from a runway project at the Columbia Airport in the cemetery’s road construction. Lexington County Public Works loaded and hauled the material at a significant savings from the West Columbia site where it was stored. Fisher once again stressed that the look of the Lexington County’s cemetery will rival that of private cemeteries, just at a fraction of the expense of how things were done in the past.

Coroner Fisher said in a message she forwarded to The Lexington Ledger Wednesday July 3rd that she expects to bury about 30 people at the county cemetery annually. She said services will be held regularly and her staff would play a significant role in the planning. This is something they’ve become experienced with since they planned and held a funeral for an indigent veteran several years ago. Since then, they've done another veteran service with multiple remains. In the case of the veterans, lots of people and groups came together to help make those memorable experiences. She believes that people will also take an interest in these indigent ceremonies and make them special too. "I think there are people who really care and they'll get behind this effort to provide dignity for the deceased she concluded."

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