Panama City residents say local cemeteries are running out of space, ask to open new cemetery

Panama City

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Some Panama City residents are expressing a growing concern that affordable local cemeteries are running out of space to bury loved ones.

Several people brought the problem to the Bay County Commission meeting on Wednesday morning.

“It’s going to gradually get worse, it’s not going to get any better,” said Panama City resident and Bay County NAACP President, Dr. Rufus Wood. 

He was joined by residents Greg Dossie and Dr. Russell Wright, who brought the issue to Panama City leadership last week as well. 

“The cemeteries are filling up,” Dossie said, referencing Redwood and Hillside cemeteries in Panama City.

“A lot of those graves are so old, they’ve gone there and found that people are buried on top of people,” said Dr. Wright, who is a local funeral home director and mortician. “So it’s not like they have a whole lot of space.”

Wright said it’s a problem that was going to have to be addressed eventually, but has been quickly intensified by COVID-19 due to deaths from the virus and financial hardship that the pandemic has caused. He said space is running out at affordable local cemeteries such as Redwood and Hillside, and a solution needs to be found sooner rather than later. 

“People are troubled financially now because of COVID-19 and because of the hurricane in Bay County, so when people experience death in their family, they need the most affordable option to bury their loved one,” Wright said. 

Those running Hillside and Redwood cemeteries confirmed that space is becoming limited; At Hillside, they’ve even considered changing an access road into more grave sites to make room. Dossie thinks that is a bad idea. 

“The pallbearers are going to have problems getting caskets over to graves, they’re going to have to step over tombstones,” he said.

Wright said local perpetual care cemeteries with space are often too expensive for many residents, and they need another option since burial is a common preference to cremation for religious and personal reasons. 

“If that’s what their option is, to be buried as opposed to cremation, then they need to have that right as taxpayers,” he said. 

Now, they’re asking county leaders to help find a solution, since it’s an issue that affects all municipalities in the county. They said it’s a socio-economic problem that needs to be addressed. 

“We need to have cemeteries that all people can afford,” Wright said. “I would like to see the county purchase land, or either the St. Joe Company, honestly, donate land somewhere so that our citizens can have a dignified disposition.”

“It’s going to be an issue that’s going to impact everybody,” Dr. Wood said. 

County Commissioner Doug Moore said the board was previously unaware of the issue and that they will be looking into it moving forward.

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