Citing concerns about the increasing amount of complaints that city staff have received about the condition and appearance of the city cemetery, as well as the increasing difficulty that staff are having maintaining the cemetery, the City of Aurora has begun to make plans to address the areas of concern and clean up the cemetery, beginning January 2019.
Throughout the last year, the sexton at the cemetery has been approached by a number of people from the community and received complaints about the increasing amount of keepsakes, mementos and other souvenirs that citizens are placing on the graves of their loved ones, according to city manager Jon Holmes. “We want to be sensitive to people as they are working through the grieving process, but we also need to be mindful of the appearance of our cemetery, and that these keepsakes and mementos make upkeep of the cemetery more difficult for staff and when left unattended, they become unsightly and unappealing to visitors of our cemetery,” said Holmes.
Holmes explained that there are several city ordinances in place regarding the cemetery and what can be placed or left there. This includes limitations on placing flowers and ornaments, and a prohibition on planting trees, flowers, shrubbery or installing other permanent fixtures. Over time, these ordinances have not always been enforced and the increased amount of items that have been installed or left at the cemetery has made the job of the sexton and cemetery staff very difficult.
“It sounds like it would be a pretty straightforward job, just mowing and trimming around the monuments and gravestones, but staff are having to work around a lot of benches and other fixtures that have been installed, as well as decorations that have been left, and it becomes a very big job,” said Holmes. The cemetery has approximately 10,000 graves and covers about 80 acres of ground.
The city council was made aware of the problem and the complaints that have been received by city staff back in September.
“We realized this was a very sensitive issue and wanted to have a discussion with the city council about how they wanted to proceed before we did anything,” the city manager stated.
In September, at a city council meeting, the council was made aware of the problem and the complaints that had been received. The council members also reviewed city ordinances regarding the cemetery.
“After we explained the issues, showed them examples and went over the existing city ordinances, we asked them how they wanted staff to proceed,” Holmes explained. A presentation was shown to the council and the public that highlighted the problems, and also showed examples of acceptable grave decorations. Holmes went on to say that the council reviewed the city ordinances and determined that the current ordinances were appropriate, but that clean-up of the cemetery was needed in order to comply with the ordinances and to address the complaints that have been received.
Since then, city staff have been working on a plan to begin clean-up efforts after the holidays. According to Holmes, staff will begin tagging items that need to be removed sometime in November and December and then begin collecting the items in January. From there, the plan is to collect the items, and retain them for 90 days. If they are not claimed, the city will discard of the items.
“We want to give everyone a chance to keep the mementos and keepsakes that may have an emotional value for them, but we are also limited on how long we can keep items,” Holmes explained. As far as existing trees and shrubbery that have been planted and are well established, those will be determined on a case by case basis. However going forward, if trees, shrubbery, bushes or flowers are planted, they will be addressed as soon as they are found.
The last big issue that was mentioned was the benches and monuments that have been placed near the graves of loved ones. According to Holmes, there are several large monument benches that have been installed over the years. These include granite monuments that cannot be moved very easy and represent a sizable investment on the part of the family that had them installed.
“We plan on working with the families as much as possible to address these as needed. Some of these are in the mowing lanes and just need to be repositioned in a better way to accommodate staff being able to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively,” Holmes stated. Smaller concrete benches that are in good condition will be moved to accommodate maintenance and upkeep as needed or discarded if they are deteriorating.
Aurora Mayor Dawn Oplinger said that the council was appreciative that staff brought this issue to them to discuss first before proceeding.
“This is a very sensitive issue and staff were very aware of that fact,” Oplinger said. “The council understands the concerns of the citizens who have loved ones resting there and have placed items at graves as memorials, but we have to balance that with staff who have the responsibility to keep Maple Park Cemetery looking beautiful. It takes a lot of work to keep our cemetery looking its best for our community, and we should all do what we can to help our cemetery staff achieve that goal.”
Holmes stated that copies of the city ordinances for the cemetery are available by request at city hall or at the cemetery office. He also encourages any citizens that may have questions or concerns about this issue to contact him at city hall by phone at 678-5121 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.