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updated: 8/30/2011 5:18 PM

Geneva might privatize cemetery maintenance

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  • Alderman Ron Singer of Geneva trims around headstones as he works with a couple of other volunteers, including Alderman Sam Hill (not pictured) to clean up the West Side Cemetery earlier this year.

      Alderman Ron Singer of Geneva trims around headstones as he works with a couple of other volunteers, including Alderman Sam Hill (not pictured) to clean up the West Side Cemetery earlier this year.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Geneva will investigate hiring private contractors to maintain the landscaping and lawns at its two cemeteries.

The city council discussed upkeep Monday at an informal committee of the whole meeting.

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The issue especially interests Alderman Sam Hill, who organized volunteer crews this spring and summer to do yard work at West Side Cemetery after his constituents complained to him. The volunteers have pulled weeds and removed grass clippings from around headstones.

Geneva has a sextant and seasonal workers who main the cemeteries. When the seasonal workers aren't available, city streets department workers help mow the cemeteries' 44 acres. The cemeteries need to be mowed up to 50 times annually, according to Dan Dinges, the public works director.

The sextant also digs graves, maintains cemetery records and handles funeral arrangements.

Aldermen discussed whether the city should remain in the cemetery business, but decided it was unrealistic to think a private entity would want to buy the cemeteries. West Side is essentially sold out and Oak Hill has about 2,000 grave sites left. At its present rate of sales, it will have room for 50 years.

The city could sell some unusable land at Oak Hill, including a forested tract on its eastern end and several riverside acres west of Route 25 that are in a floodplain.

For many years, part of lot sales and grave-opening fees were put into a perpetual-care fund, intended to be used for maintenance. But that practice was stopped, as sales and openings slowed down.

The fees, plus interest and other miscellaneous income account for about 63 percent of the annual cost of operating the cemeteries. The rest comes from the city's general fund. The city is required to provide perpetual care, city administrator Mary McKittrick said.

The fees are about the same as those offered at St. Charles Township, West Chicago and Batavia cemeteries, according to Dinges.

Alderman Charles Brown was the one who speculated whether the city should stay in the cemetery business, especially since it seems more people are opting for cremation.

Aldermen discussed organizing more volunteers to help with upkeep, but think that would take a lot of work to organize judging by the efforts of a similar operation, the Geneva Beautification Committee. Alderman Ron Singer suggested using people who have to do court-ordered community service. Public works does use community service workers, but it doesn't end up saving much money because the workers typically need a lot of supervision, Dinges said.

The city solicited one mowing proposal, from the firm that already handles landscape maintenance at other city properties. That firm would charge $875 per mowing.

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