Danville residents demand better cemetery maintenance

September 14, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

A landscape company may take over the grass maintenance at Bellevue and Hilldale cemeteries, but a group of residents led by Mary Stith Hamlin wants to talk to the cemetery committee first.

City Commissioners listened to the group at its meeting Monday, and tabled bids for the landscape companies until after the cemetery committee meets.

Residents complained about grass clippings on the headstones, that the 98 trees and shrubs cut down were never replaced in Bellevue and that trash had been left in the Dumpsters.

"Frankly, it's a disaster," said Mayor John W.D. Bowling.

The city hired temporary help last year to assist the cemetery employees, but residents said it hasn't helped but it has cost the city money. Danville spent $62,000 last fiscal year on temporary help.


City Manager Darrell Blenniss said that cemetery jobs are entry-level public works positions, and that turnover is high.

"People are always looking for 50 cents more an hour somewhere else," he said. "You don't have to pay a contractor if he doesn't do a good job; you have to pay an employee even if he doesn't perform."

Bowling said, "Employees have rights, and it's hard to discipline and fire employees. In government today, basically you can't fire an employee without a big lawsuit."

Bowling said it's hard to find people to work because they can't find anyone to pass a drug screen.

City Commissioner Chester Kavanaugh said he thinks they need employees that care, instead of outsourcing labor.

"It's not for the deceased, but for the hearts and memory of the living," he said. "If we had people who put heart and soul in the job I don't see where we'd have to hire" a landscape company.

Kavanaugh said he understood that the temporary help the city hired hadn't been paying taxes. Blenniss said he'd investigate it.

It took $282,457 to run, keep up cemeteries

The cemeteries took in about $69,000 this past fiscal year, and it took $282,457 to run and upkeep. The general fund has supplemented the cemeteries. The city estimates that it would save $100,000 by having a landscape company do the work instead of city employees.

City Commissioner Terry Crowley said that it is obvious that what the city is doing isn't working; that it spent more than $200,000 on the cemetery last fiscal year and it still doesn't look like residents want it to look. "This is about who's riding the mower," Crowley said.

Commissioner Ryan Owens said he's against contracting out the mowing.

There are supposed to be six employees assigned to the cemeteries, four who work just on maintenance. Blenniss said it has been hard to keep the positions filled, and now there are only four employees.

If the city contracts out the mowing, then two of those people would be transferred to public works. The other two are Gerald Naylor, cemetery manager, and a records keeper. When Naylor needs laborers to dig graves then he would use public works employees.

City Engineer Earl Coffey said that in the past 20 years the maintenance work and grave digging at the cemeteries have become a huge job.

He recommended the city accept the $43,410 bid from Devine Creations. The lowest bid was $33,000 and the highest $280,000.

Resident Ed Alsman said he doesn't believe that the job can be done for $43,000.

Hamlin said, "How can they do it for $40,000 and you couldn't do it for $200,000?" She said she wanted commissioners to "really examine how (they) are failing" at the cemeteries.

Hamlin said she has several problems with the landscape contract. She wants it to be more specific about what trees will be trimmed and how personal plantings on graves will be handled.

Bowling told her to take her problems to the cemetery committee. That committee hasn't been active, but Bowling said it had been meeting for the past four months.

Some of Hamlin's concern was with the 98 trees and shrubs cut out of Bellevue Cemetery.

It cost the city $2,000 to remove the trees, and Coffey said those removed were past maturity, misshapen or partly dead. The cemetery committee decided which trees and shrubs to remove.

Local landscaper Gary Chidester told the audience that he was hired by the city to cut out the growth, and that while he was doing it he had been chastised by a woman. Chidester said he promised her he would help replace every tree cut down.

He suggested that some of the $100,000 the city expects to save with a landscaper be spent on buying replacement trees, and that if they were purchased he would volunteer to plant them.

Reminding commissioners about Hilldale

Resident Kerry Kenley, who has been vocal about Hilldale Cemetery, said that he wants commissioners to remember that there were two cemeteries in town, and that both need better care and maintenance.

"I don't have anything against the (mowing) contract, but it'll at least be equal or you'll hear from me," he said.

Commissioners agreed.

Residents were also upset that the cemetery office has been moved.

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