The Leesburg Town Council, in an effort to mitigate concerns raised by the Loudoun Freedom Center (LFC), voted 5-2 Tuesday to donate $25,740 for the preservation and restoration of the historic Sycolin Cemetery, the final resting place of 65 Black Loudoun residents.
The unusually specific amount being donated came as a result of calculations made by Councilwoman Suzanne Fox. During Monday’s work session, Fox reasoned that should the LFC not sign a memorandum of understanding and take control of the property, Leesburg would maintain ownership of the cemetery, and thus continue to fund its upkeep.
The donation amount represents the town’s estimate savings of future maintenance.
According to Fox, the town will be responsible for maintaining 26 percent less acreage were it to give the 1.6-acre cemetery property to the LFC. Since Leesburg spends about $3,300 per year in staff time and maintenance on the entire Sycolin property, 26 percent of that is $858. Fox then multiplied that amount by 30 years, to cover future preservation.
“The town does indeed value the preservation of history, and though I agree we have spent time and resources getting the land ready to be gifted, these extra funds will help the LFC tell the story and preserve the history of those buried at this site,” Fox said. “I feel it’s important to do, and the LFC will do it best.”
However, Councilman Neil Steinberg, who joined Mayor Kelly Burk in voting against the donation, said the calculation wasn’t accurate.
Town staff said that the figure is entirely Fox’s, and that Leesburg will not save an actual dollar amount since the maintenance costs are in staff time and materials. However, were the LFC to take responsibility for the cemetery’s maintenance, the town could reallocate their staff and materials — in a sense saving the town several thousand dollars per year, Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel said.
LFC founder and NAACP Loudoun Branch president and Pastor Michelle Thomas told the Times-Mirror that she won’t sign the Memorandum of Understanding to give LFC the cemetery until Leesburg pays to install flood mitigation measures. The property, which is located atop a natural spring, floods after heavy rain, and the LFC wants to be able to preserve and add headstones to the graves.
Town staff has estimated that sufficient flood mitigation measures would cost taxpayers about $150,000.