Helper mayor, council address current conditions at cemetery
During a July 17 council meeting, Helper officials addressed concerns regarding the current conditions at the city's cemetery.
According to Councilman Tony Gonzales, several complaints have been made regarding the sinking problem at Mountain View Cemetery.
"We have received several calls from concerned family members who say that headstones are falling and sinking and that the city should be responsible for maintaining or replacing damaged material," indicated Gonzales.
Although much attention has been given to sinking grave sites, headstones have been a consistent worry for city employees.
Gonzales explained that fill dirt is placed into problem areas in order to correct the sinking problem.
However, headstones tend to tilt and eventually crack at the base because of the sinking situation and little can be done on the city's behalf to fix this problem.
"My concern is that the current ordinance says that the city is responsible for the maintenance of these stones. The problem is that we don't have the tools or the manpower to do so," Gonzales pointed out.
The council agreed the area needed to be explored. But given Helper's budget situation, the governing board felt the city could not focus on the matter at the present time.
"If it is our responsibility, then we have to do what we can afford to do. If that means that we need to raise the cost of burial expenses, then that is the direction we will have to look in," advised Helper Mayor, Joe Bonacci.
Before continuing the discussion about cemetery, Helper attorney Gene Strate looked up the related city ordinance.
Strate advised the council that the city is responsible for lawn mowing, flower removal and maintenance of headstones for damage that is caused by the city employees only.
"The problem that we are facing is that many of the headstones are deteriorating and are just waiting to fall. This makes it quite easy for workers to damage when they are mowing or trimming the lawn around these sites. Then it's our responsibility to fix these structures," explained Gonzales.
The question was brought up as to whether or not headstones are personal property. The understanding was that once a burial plot is purchased, a deed is handed over to the buyer. This would make the site personal property and therefore, the city would not be responsible for the maintenance of the site.
"I understand that we are responsible for any damage we may cause, but if a stone is deteriorating and falling over, I don't think it should be our responsibility to fix it," Gonzales indicated.
The council agreed that the ordinance needs to be reviewed more closely and that an updated version must be created.
"The big problem we have is that most of those graves are constructed of wood which allows dirt to cave into them. The only thing that we can do is refill the sink holes when they occur. As far as headstones, we need to look into the issue and come up with a better guideline to follow when it comes to maintenance," concluded the mayor.