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Cemetery to raise weekend burial costs

Cemetery Superintendent Ruben Esquivel explains during the General Services Committee meeting on Wednesday why the city of Roswell’s South Park Cemetery needs to recover costs for Saturday burials. Behind and to the left of Esquivel are Kevin Dillon, the city’s projects and facilities director, and Jim Burress, Parks and Recreation director. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The General Services Committee approved recommending an increase in weekend and overtime burial fees at South Park Cemetery at 3101 S. Main St. from $200 to $700.

After discussion, Councilor Juan Oropesa made the motion to approve the proposed resolution for increasing the fees and Councilor Jacob Roebuck seconded, sending the item to the full Roswell City Council. Adding the vote of Councilor Savino Sanchez, the committee chair, the measure passed 3 to 0 on Wednesday. Committee member Councilor Angela Moore was absent.

Responding to a question from Oropesa, Elizabeth Gilbert, the city’s director of administrative services, said the proposed resolution would go straight to council — unless the committee wanted it to visit another council commitee. The committee expressed they wanted it to go to council.

Cemetery Superintendent Ruben Esquivel explained the reason for the increase is to cover overtime costs for cemetery employees working on Saturdays, outside their normal Monday through Friday schedules. Esquivel clarified Saturday services are not required by the cemetery, but rather are an option for families. Currently, Esquivel said two staff members work for Saturday funerals.

“We’re asking to recommend to increase that to be able to cover this,” Esquivel said. “We’re not in this to make money, but we’re not in is either to lose money and as it is right now, we’re not covering our expense as far as personnel.”

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According to the meeting’s agenda, funeral services are conducted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. The agenda noted that the cemetery board discussed and approved a recommendation for the resolution on Jan. 15.

“The reason we are sitting here today, Saturdays in the past were a make-up day,” Jim Burress, Parks and Recreation director, said. “If you have an emergency, ‘Oh my goodness, we can’t take care of you during the week,’ we’ll actually come out here on a Saturday and help out the families. With our volume now, obviously there is quite a few on a Saturday. That increases the difficulty with our budgets and overtime.

“So in the past, it was once in a while we had someone on a Saturday. Now, it is just routine — week after week after week, because of the volume that we have. So the impact to the overtime is even greater now and also the staff level, so that’s why we are asking for an increase.”

Esquivel said he oversees “a small” eight-person staff at the cemetery and its services are “limited.” Oropesa drew attention to the understaffing of the cemetery — saying the cemetery should have 20 staff members according to some cemetery association guidelines. He also said the addition of the General Douglas L. McBride Roswell Veteran Cemetery section in the South Park Cemetery increases the burden on the staff.

To his understanding, Orpoesa said the Saturday services are often requested by families traveling to Roswell from out of town. Esquivel said more flights into the city have made the cemetery accessible. He said the cemetery has a significant amount of pre-owned properties for such families with ties to Roswell.

Roebuck said the resolution was “about cost recovery — not about really changes in staffing, pay policy (or) pay procedure.” Prompted by Roebuck, Esquivel said more than half of the services are on Saturday throughout the year and the number is growing.

“I’m not saying I want do away with Saturday services,” Esquivel said. “It’s just that I think there hasn’t been a change in a long time and the $200 that is there right now obviously doesn’t even cover staff.”

In addition, Roebuck asked about the pros and cons of changing the work schedule to include Saturdays as a regular work day. Esquivel said doing so would “cause a lot of interruption” to the set schedule for services affecting the three local funeral homes, plus those out of town. Esquivel reminded the committee that the cemetery workers are blue collar and there would be additional regulations on changing schedules. Burress said rearranging the shifts would affect the maintenance schedule of the cemetery and more staff would have to be added to allow Saturday to be a work-day.

With the current workload, Esquivel explained his staff at minimum receives a day and half off and are “overworking” with Saturday services. He said vacation and sick time also have to be considered.

In the past, Gilbert said the city has been working with three funeral homes based on their schedules and needs. Now, Gilbert said the intention is coordinate “a little bit better” around maintenance days and times for both the city and the funeral homes “to minimize the impact of this fee to them and of course the families.”

Attempts by the Daily Record to contact representatives from Anderson-Bethany, LaGrone Funeral Chapel & Crematory and Ballard funeral homes were unsuccessful due to directors declining to comment or being out of town.

Esquivel said the cemetery board is a “very respectful board” and “very knowledgable” about the cemetery and the community at large. Esquivel said the cemetery is in “close connection and communication” with funeral homes, since Gabriel Casaus (representing Ballard and LaGrone) and Jeremy Hurley (with Anderson Bethany) serve on the cemetery board.

Saying a Saturday afternoon service would have to result from extenuating circumstances, Esquivel said afternoon services do happen and in a hypothetical situation — if there was a morning and afternoon service on Saturday — the overtime fee would be charged for each, in response to Oropesa’s question.

“We don’t want to charge people more than we need to or more than we have to and certainly in a time like that,” Roebuck said. “That being said — if this committee has thought about it and certainly if they felt like there was an issue that this was going to be a serious problem or a burden on our citizens, I think we should reconsider. But if that committee feels confident that it’s not going to be a burden, an undue burden, then I don’t necessarily have a problem, as much as I don’t like charging more fees but I also want to balance the budget too.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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