Two senators want Seneca County site to be NY's first state-run veterans cemetery

By ROBERT HARDING | The Citizen | Published: January 15, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — As Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks to establish New York's first state-run veterans' cemetery, two senators believe an existing Seneca County cemetery should be a candidate.

State Sens. Pam Helming and Rob Ortt want New York to take over operations of Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Romulus. The 162-acre cemetery, which is on land where the former Sampson Naval Training Station and Sampson Air Force Base were located, opened in 2011.

The state invested more than $3 million to build the cemetery. According to the cemetery's website, the Seneca County Economic Development Corporation maintains and manages the property.

Cuomo didn't mention a state-run veterans cemetery in his State of the State address, but it's one of several proposals included in a 318-page booklet detailing his 2020 legislative agenda.

In the booklet, Cuomo's office acknowledges that New York is one of a few states that doesn't have a state-run veterans cemetery. They blamed state law that established "a confusing and laborious process" for creating a state veterans cemetery.

Under state law, it's required that a tax check-off must gather enough funds to cover at least 15 years of perpetual care costs before the state can select a site.

On Veterans Day in November, Cuomo committed to establishing a state veterans cemetery. According to his office, he will introduce legislation "streamlining the veterans' cemetery establishment process outlined in state law, thereby making it easier to access federal funding that will allow the project to move forward."

Cuomo also established a committee to select a site and oversee the development of a state veterans' cemetery. The committee will be led by James McDonough, director of the New York State Division of Veterans' Services.

"More than 70% of New York state's approximately 750,000 veterans are over age 55, and many New York state veterans and their families have for years advocated for the establishment of a state veterans cemetery to ensure there is an appropriate final resting place for veterans who call New York home," Cuomo's office wrote in the book.

Helming, R-Canandaigua, and Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, noted that Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery was built to meet federal guidelines. They contacted the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs about designating Sampson as New York's first veterans' cemetery. Helming said that a committee formed in Seneca County to advocate for Sampson's selection.

"This is a priority for veterans and their families across our region," she added.

Ortt, a veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan, plans to assist efforts to establish Sampson as the first state-run veterans' cemetery. He is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs.

"We owe the men and women who have served in our nation's military a place where they can rest and be looked after in a way that recognizes and commemorates their service," Ortt said. "It is my hope that Sampson will be designated as the officially-designated state-run veterans' cemetery."

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