Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 5, 2013

Altamont Council discusses cemetery ordinance

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

ALTAMONT — There haven't been many rules on how Union Cemetery in Altamont must be maintained.

"There is a cemetery ordinance, but it's been limited to cost and interment rules," said City Commissioner Jason Williams, who oversees the cemetery on behalf of the City Council.

Williams said, however, that increasing difficulty in maintaining the cemetery is causing city officials to consider new rules on what can be used as a decoration or planting. He added the issue is not a new one.

"We've been thinking about this for some time," Williams said. "It's been a point of discussion that we can do better."

Williams conducted a public hearing Monday on the issue that drew about a half-dozen residents. He told the group the revised ordinance will be aimed primarily at ground decorations, such as solar lights and memorial plaques.

"Ground decorations make it hard to maintain," he said. "We've looked at what other cities are doing, but we wanted to see what the public had to say."

As it turned out, members of the public who were there had few questions. Local historian Alvin Oliver said one thing that would enhance the cemetery's appearance would be to fill in the cemetery's low spots.

"There ought to be a program where you fill in the sunken spots," Oliver said. "It would make it easier to mow."

Oliver said one problem is that many families own six- or eight-person lots that only have two graves.

"You don't see big families any more and family members don't come back here to be buried like they used to," he added.

Resident Jerry Jones said he gets lots of positive comments about the cemetery.

"People ask me where people are buried and always make a comment on how good the cemetery looks," Jones said.

"Overall, I think it's a nice cemetery," added resident Charlene Calhoun.

Williams said floral arrangements on approved monument vases, as well as saddles on monuments, will still be allowed at any time, as will fresh-cut flowers in approved vases.

But ground decorations and potted plants will only be allowed five days before or after Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day or Father's Day. Williams said shepherd hooks were on the original list of banned items, but he said that ban would hurt the florist business. Instead, shepherd hooks will be limited to one per monument.

The ordinance would also include a ban on any planting without city permission. Moreover, the ordinance would ban anyone other than nursery or city personnel from planting. Resident Joan Fitzwilliam questioned that provision during the hearing.

"I know a lot of people who know how to plant a tree," Fitzwilliam said.

"We just want to make sure it's done right," said Williams.

Williams said winter decorations will be allowed between Oct. 31 and March 15. Moreover, he said, the rules will be relaxed for new graves.

"I think we need to have some compassion," he said. "We'll let people put fresh flowers on new graves. We're not going to be hiding behind the fence waiting for the end of the burial."

Williams said the city would, however, remove flowers on new graves after the flowers died.

Williams said the ordinance would be read at next Monday's council meeting, but would be held over for passage until the Feb. 25 meeting.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.