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Changes ahead for Union Cemetery

Proposed rules will bring cemetery in line with other city parks

Published: Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 12:15 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 12:29 p.m. CDT
Caption
(David Dolmage/Daily News)
Cemetery manager, Lisa Bernal, left, confers with Dale Maki of the American Legion and Marta Ford, a member of the Veterans Affairs Commission in Jasper County as they look at spaces available for veteran burials during a tour of Union Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon. City planners in Newton are looking to create additional burial areas for veterans and are seeking input from members of the veteran community in Newton.

In order to bring Newton’s Union Cemetery in line with other city-operated parks, administrators in Newton are looking at changing some of the operational rules for the park.

The biggest change that could affect residents is a shift in cleanup dates at the cemetery. During a Wednesday afternoon meeting, ​city administrators met with veterans groups to discuss some of the proposed changes and to discuss expanding the veterans area at Union Cemetery to meet the needs of deceased veterans.

Brian Laube, the community services planner for the City of Newton said the city wanted to get input from veterans before making any changes in the veterans area at Union Cemetery. With an influx of Vietnam veteran burials, the city is rapidly running out of room for veteran burials at Union Cemetery.

“We’re looking to expand the cemetery but we wanted to get input from veterans first,” Laube said.

Currently, two locations within Union Cemetery are designated for veterans. Sections V-1 and V-2, the veteran areas at Union Cemetery are nearing capacity. Five hundred fifty-two veterans are buried in V-2, with an additional 96 spaces remaining open, while V-1 currently has 300 veterans buried there, with 32 open spaces. The layout at V-1 has a reduced amount of space due to a section that is devoted to the parade ground area.

Lisa Bernal, the cemetery manager at Union Cemetery said she anticipated the cemetery filling up in the next years. Veterans are filling the cemetery at a rate of 16.5 veterans per year, with seven veteran funerals in 2017 so far. At that pace, the city will run out of space for veterans by 2025.

With less than 1 percent of the population serving in the armed forces, demand will eventually peak for the veterans cemetery, but right now the cemetery is experiencing a heavy influx of Vietnam veteran burials.

One option on the table for city planners is to create smaller interment spaces, specifically for cremation urns. According to Laube, cremation is overtaking traditional casket burials, and creating the smaller plots at Union Cemetery would help the city conserve space. Another option under consideration by city planners would be to create a “family plot” and allow cremation urns to be placed above an existing casket. At one point, city planners had looked into double stacking coffins, but that plan isn’t feasible due to issues with the water table at Union Cemetery.

The current cleanup dates at Union Cemetery are the fourth week of March and the first full week after the Fourth of July. Laube’s proposal would move the July cleanup date later in the year to give people a chance to decorate for the holidays. During the cleanup dates, city employees remove decorations from the graves and making sure the public is aware when it’s underway is important. City administrator Matt Muckler said it’s a sensitive issue for residents.

“It would be helpful if staff understood what would be moved and what would not be moved,” Muckler said. “We’ve never had a year go by without a complaint.”

Tim Halferty, a city parks department employee, said one of the biggest issues city employees face while mowing and trimming out at the cemetery is that often, decorations have been placed on the ground, requiring city employees to move them every time they mow.

“They are supposed to be on the foundation only, as far as I’m concerned it’s not OK,” Halferty said.

Marta Ford, a member of the Jasper County Veterans Affairs Commission, was one of several veterans who attended Wednesday’s meeting. Ford said she’s glad to see the city making an effort to solidify their policies and taking a more active interest in taking care of the cemetery. Ford was happy to see the city working with funeral directors and veterans groups in order to create a set of rules that worked for everyone.

“Everyone just kept passing the buck on this, this is more interest than we’ve ever had,” Ford said. “I think the people in Newton will be pleased that the city is taking an interest in the cemetery.”

Other proposed changes at Union Cemetery include banning smoking and tobacco products on the grounds, solidifying the fee schedule for burials, and increasing the minimum notice for internment from 24 to 48 hours. These changes will bring the cemetery in line with the city’s other parks, Laube said. Muckler said he hopes to have the changes ready for city council members to vote on soon, and he doesn’t expect there’ll be any opposition to the changes.

“We’ll do a good job of getting it explained to the council,” Muckler said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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