City eyes tighter control over cemeteries
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | January 27,2014
City officials are trying to sort out who exactly should be responsible for Rutland’s cemeteries.
While the obvious answer might seem to be “the cemetery commission,” Tom Giffin, the commission’s chairman, said it isn’t quite that simple.
“I’m an appointed official,” he said. “It’s not quite the same as an elected official. For example, the Poor Farm cemetery, when the fence blew over — I didn’t have the authority to go to the insurance company and make a claim. The city has to do that.”
Giffin said it was high time the issue was addressed.
“We have this resurgence of Rutland and this is part of it,” he said. “We should be proud of our history and our heritage.”
The issue was the subject of a meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s General Committee on Thursday, and committee Vice Chairman Ed Larson said it will be the subject of at least one more. He said the charter currently gives the Board of Aldermen ultimate authority over the cemeteries, but that it made sense for another level of government to have decision-making power.
“We’re elected officials who only meet every two weeks,” he said.
Larson said they want to speak with the public works commissioner and the recreation superintendent about which department’s umbrella to put the cemetery commission under.
“I think we’re reaching the point where the board could come up with a set of guidelines,” he said.
Larson and Giffin both noted that the West Street Cemetery lies within the gateway district and is especially historic in nature, holding graves of a number of Revolutionary War veterans. Giffin said the cemetery has suffered from vandalism over more than a century, but also from environmental degradation.
“You know the expression ‘wrong side of the tracks?’” Giffin asked. “It’s not where people come from. It’s where the coal dust wound up.”
Giffin said a number of the more inexpensive stones, purchased through the Sears and Roebuck catalog, deteriorated under the coal dust from passing trains.
Larson said the $41,000 budget for cemeteries covers the most basic maintenance. Giffin has organized a significant amount of donations and volunteer labor, but said he does have a wish list of what he’d like from the city — even if he knows it isn’t all realistic.
“It’s hard to justify a $200,000 budget for the cemetery when you’re trying to pay your water bill,” he said. “I understand that.”