Cemetery committee gets an earful

September 22, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

The cemetery committee listened to a packed audience air concerns Tuesday about everything from the length of grass between headstones to the color of garbage cans to whether Christmas wreaths should be left up after Easter.

Mowing and cemetery upkeep has ignited a group of residents to come to recent public meetings. They say that they want the cemetery to look its best for the sake of their loved ones buried there.

City administration has said that it has tried to keep up the cemetery with city employees and it's not working. So, the city has come up with a plan to hire a private contractor to do the work.

Residents said Tuesday that they think the specifications in the contract would be impossible to fill, especially a requirement to keep the grass between 3 and 3 1/2 inches high in the cemetery. They said that grass can grow a half inch a day, and to mow it lower than 3 inches would scalp it, so the only viable option would be to cut the grass every day.


Local landscaper and former City Commission candidate Nathan Doneghy said it couldn't be done. But, City Engineer Earl Coffey said that the contractors knew the specifications before bidding, and that some bidders have been "offended" that people don't believe that they can do it. The cemetery committee took no action on the matter.

If approved by commissioners, the mowing contract would run from the date it is signed until June. Next year the city would review all of its mowing contracts and rebid.

The committee voted to recommend that the next contract include a performance bond, so that if the work isn't done then the city wouldn't lose money.

A host of complaints

A host of other complaints about the two cemeteries was made by residents at the meeting. They want the committee to have the gates locked every evening.

Mayor John W.D. Bowling, who sits on the committee, asked that there be a policy about fresh and plastic flowers. The committee has been working on such a policy and plans to give it to the commission, said chairwoman Margaret Levi.

"We've seen Christmas wreaths up at Easter," Bowling said. "Then if we remove it the city hears about it. Now, it's up to the discretion of Gerald (Naylor, the cemetery supervisor), but it's an eyesore and creates negative energy in the cemetery."

What about grass clippings on the headstones?, one resident wanted to know. Coffey said that the grass has to be removed, and that it's part of the contract. If grass is left there or not cut there is a provision for a $100 a day penalty.

What happens if it rains?, asked Commissioner Chester Kavanaugh. The city's other mowing contractors have always worked around it, Coffey said.

What about flowers and shrubs planted by families? several residents asked. Bowling said that there is a rule now that no vegetation can be pulled unless the lot owner gives permission. Levi said that the city does reserve the right to remove plantings that are unsightly, dangerous or that threaten neighboring gravesites.

Bowling said they've had trouble finding some families to ask permission to remove dead plants. Coffey said that if the family can't be found then the committee would be asked.

"I don't see why we need a committee to cut down a dead tree," said Martha Rodes, a resident.

Coffey said that every time something is done without permission, even with dead plantings, the city gets complaints about it.

Residents also asked that the Dumpster at Bellevue and the trash cans at both cemeteries be emptied, and that the gates be locked at night to prevent illegal dumping. Committee member Ralph Smith said that there needs to be two more trash cans at Hilldale. Committee member Mimi Becker said she thought there were too many trash cans at Bellevue.

Coffey said that the city is trying to look for more attractive trash receptacles; there are bright blue ones in the cemetery now. He suggested that the cans be painted a dark green until better cans can be bought.

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