New draft cemetery rules would allow for additional decorations at Lawrence gravesites

photo by: Nick Krug

City landscaper Mike Brown carefully steers a lawnmower through the rows of headstones at Oak Hill Cemetery on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.

City officials presented the first draft of new rules for grave decorations at the city’s cemeteries, which would allow plot owners more decoration options, including limited borders and ground cover.

The Parks and Recreation Department oversees three cemeteries — Oak Hill, Maple Grove and Memorial Park — and already has rules regarding decorations, but those rules have not been strictly enforced. The draft, which was discussed as part of a public meeting Wednesday, allows additional decorations, such as shepherd hooks, borders and personal items, as long as they are placed within 6 inches of markers and not on the side of the marker that borders the adjacent plot.

Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Mark Hecker said allowing for borders around grave markers was a compromise.

“This is a little bit of give,” Hecker said. “Previously, rules would not have allowed anything, but we are trying to hit a middle ground.”

Parks and Rec staff showed examples of borders, such as pavers, plastic fencing and gravel, that are already in place at the cemeteries, but are a violation under current rules.

Borders of metal, plastic or stone edging would be allowed at Oak Hill and Maple Grove cemeteries only, according to the new draft rules. Borders must be placed no more than six inches from the marker and enclose only three sides.

Currently, the rules state no mulching material or gravel is allowed, but the draft rules state that mulch, pebbles, rocks, gravel or granite chips may be used as filler between the border and the grave marker. Other personal items, including a limit of one shepherd hook per grave marker, may be placed inside the border or 6-inch permitted decoration area.

photo by: Nick Krug

Several decorations along with floral arrangements decorate a headstone on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Though the draft rules do provide some more decoration options, they also more clearly spell out that the city has discretion in maintaining the cemetery. The draft rules state that the city reserves the right to regulate decorations so that “ease of maintenance and a uniform beauty may be maintained.”

About 30 people attended the meeting, and another key issue discussed was the grounds maintenance at the cemeteries. Several meeting attendees noted that weeds are sometimes not properly trimmed from grave markers, and some said they have even taken to pulling weeds themselves in order to keep their family plots clear of weeds.

Hecker explained that currently, the budget for maintenance to the city’s three cemeteries is $204,000 for staff and operations. He said the department uses herbicides to “chemically trim” around grave markers two to three times per year and uses a physical string trimmer two to three times per year. He recognized that many people want to see more string trimming and less weed killer.

“I know that’s controversial,” Hecker said. “If we want to change our maintenance practices, there is a cost involved. We do what we can with the money we have.”

Hecker said to increase the string trimming, the parks and rec department would need to hire two to four crew members dedicated to that task. He said to eliminate chemical trimming and do string trimming 16 to 18 times per year would cost about $70,000.

Officials also told attendees there is more funding on the horizon.

Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers noted that a cemetery maintenance reserve fund was created as part of the city’s 2019 budget process. Rogers said that starting in 2020, a portion of plot sales will go into the fund and will be dedicated to cemetery maintenance. He said that funding could be used for trimming, turf maintenance, monument maintenance, upkeep of the mausoleum or curb and street repair, and that those funding decisions would have to be discussed.

As part of the meeting, attendees provided handwritten comments to city officials about the draft rules, which officials will use as they continue to revise the rules. There are a series of upcoming meetings where the rules will be further discussed.

The draft rules will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for initial feedback at its meeting Sept 10. A second public meeting will then be held Oct. 1, to gather more feedback, before the advisory board considers recommending the rules for approval at its meeting Oct. 8.

photo by: Nick Krug

Several decorations along with floral arrangements decorate a headstone on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Previous coverage

What should a cemetery look like? City plans meeting to discuss decoration rules


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