Letter to the Editor: Problems at St. George City Cemetery

LETTER TO THE EDITOR – The following letter is addressed by the writer to Cody Schmidt, St. George City Supervisor, Parks, Trails and Cemeteries, and to the citizens of St. George:

Thank you for meeting me at the St. George Cemetery last Monday, 10/28/13, and for resolving the question on the city’s responsibility regarding the damage to the Casper and Magdalena Gubler Bryner headstones. It is my understanding that the City of St. George Cemetery will take responsibility for (1) the lawn mower damage to the base of Casper’s headstone, (2) for the lawnmower damage and repairing Magdalena’s headstone by reassembling the three broken pieces and backing them with a granite engraved slab and (3) the resetting of both headstones. A granite slab backing on Casper’s headstone will be the responsibility of the Bryner/Crosby families.

I just spoke with Robert Kenworthy and he is finishing up cost estimates. Any encouragement from you to Kenworthy Monument Company to expedite this project would be appreciated.

The lack of upkeep/maintenance of the St. George City Cemetery and the damage/erosion and disintegration by the use of unfiltered Virgin River water to the headstones is of grave (no pun intended) concern to myself and many others in our community with whom I have spoken. When I discovered the damage to the Bryner head stones I confronted the person in charge. He admitted to a lawnmower breaking Casper’s base but claimed vandals did the breaking of Magdalena’s headstone. When I demanded a police report for the vandalism I was told one had not been filed stating, “the St. George Police would not do anything, any way.” Thank you for your personal investigation and determination of responsibility. (See Ed. note 1.)

You indicated you wanted and would request water quality samples from the Snow Park and Skyline settlement ponds (See Ed. note 2). I would like to request specifically the report on (1) Alkalinity, (2) Sulfates and just (3) plain MUD CONTENT samples. I have been told by SG Cemetery city employees mud often has to be cleaned from the sprinklers to get them to operate properly. I have pictures showing a foot high or more ring of mud around the Snow Park Settlement Pond. This polluted unfiltered water irrigates our St. George Cemetery.

This muddy, unfiltered river water is discoloring and destroying the headstones and monuments in the cemetery. The person in charge of Dixie State University Building and Grounds staff (which also uses the Snow Park Settlement water pumped from the Virgin River), when asked how they limit the corrosive effect of this water, told me: “It is simple, the St. George irrigation water is not allowed to touch any of our buildings or facilities.” This presently is not an option for those buried or who will be buried in the SG Cemetery. I am told Tonaquint Cemetery uses Gunlock irrigation water that is also hard but less corrosive .(See Ed. note 3.)

I have received conflicting explanations regarding if, when and how often the water from the settlement ponds is filtered. I did speak with Jeff Lance from the irrigation department as you recommended. He was helpful but there are still questions I need answered on the filtering system. I think the city system is more settlement than filtering and is not working. Just take a stroll through the SG Cemetery to see what I mean.

I have visited fifteen small town cemeteries in Southern Utah. Without exception, all of the 15 other cemeteries show pride in their maintenance and upkeep not seen in our St. George Cemetery.

At our meeting you told me the St. George Cemetery has 6,000 graves, the largest in Southern Utah, you stated that the large number of graves makes weed eating between head stones cost prohibited for the City of St. George except for three times a year: 1. Memorial Day 2. Days prior to the marathon and Senior Olympics (employee told me to impress visitors) and 3. Once in the winter. (See Ed. note 4.)

Today, 11/04/13, I spoke with Craig Larson, Sexton of the Cedar City Cemetery and congratulated him on the manicured appearance I witnessed at the Cedar City cemetery. He has a staff of one full time person and two seasonal workers from April thru October. Mr. Larson informed me the Cedar City Cemetery has 7,000 graves, a thousand more than St. George. They do scheduled weed eating between headstones on an every two-week cycle. When asked how Cedar City could afford this expense Mr. Larson said they use Community Service Workers (court ordered) who serve their work hours at no cost to the city. He also told me he and his employees work very hard and take great pride in their work. I do not see the same work ethic and pride in the employees at the St. George City Cemetery. (See Ed. note 5.)

The Hurricane Cemetery, like Cedar City, is well maintained and both offer family, friends and visitors a pleasant, uplifting, experience. Troy Mitchell, the Hurricane Sexton, told me the cemetery water in the old section has been, is and will continue to be irrigated by culinary water from city wells. The new section will use irrigation water, with some water coming from the Virgin River, but will be filtered as it goes into the settlement pond and filtered again as it leaves for the cemetery. The water will also be filtered at the cemetery so the sexton can monitor and change filters as needed to protect the headstones and monuments. Future plans call for installation of a new line of culinary water to serve the new section. The 12-acre Hurricane Cemetery has approximately 3000 graves. The sexton works full time plus works on other sites within the city limits when he has time. During the busy season, early spring thru late fall, other personnel average 12 hours a week to help him mow, weed eat and maintain the grounds, plus take care of burials. He and his employees weed eat three times a week during the busy season. The Hurricane Cemetery does have problems from hard water but does not show the headstone damage compared to the unfiltered hard corrosive water of the St. George City Cemetery. (See Ed. note 6.)

Add to the list of Cedar City and Hurricane, the well-maintained cemeteries in Centennial City, AZ Fredonia, AZ, Kanab, Ordervillle, Panguitch, Parowan, Paragonah, New Harmony, Toquerville, LaVerkin, Washington and Santa Clara. All of the above cemeteries have hard water problems but all show exceptional pride in honoring their departed. Maybe St. George can learn something from our smaller neighbors.

The St. George City Cemetery has a full time Sexton who offices at the Tonaquint Cemetery. In all fairness, he is new to his job and is a very pleasant person but does not spend enough time supervising his employees at the SG Cemetery. The SG Cemetery has one full time employee and two part time employees who are only allowed to work 28 hours a week (I was told only 28 hours is so the city does not have to pay benefits – makes one wonder how many other park, trails, recreation and golf course employees are part time and do not receive any benefits.

From my many visits and observations of the SG Cemetery the past two months, I question the time the full time employee spends not working instead of just walking around “supervising.” Compare this to the sextons of Cedar City and Hurricane Cemeteries, who supervise while also doing the real physical work.

The SG City Cemetery should have been cited and fined $50 a day for its unsightly appearance prior to the marathon. Is this just another example of selective code enforcement?

Why does the St. George City Cemetery not receive the same quality of care and manicured maintenance as our city parks, trails, buildings, golf courses, dog park, ball parks, historical sites and the list goes on? Just check out any of the city parks within just a half-mile (a goal and priority of our mayor) from every resident. Is the Pioneer section of the cemetery not worthy of the same up keep and care?

Vandalism in any form is a horrible thing to experience. A few years ago vandals,

in an unfortunate and outrageous act, destroyed a number of pioneer headstones.

Is the corrosive disintegration of the St. George Cemetery head stones caused by the unfiltered Virgin River water not simply another form of vandalism?

A cemetery is a sacred resting place for our ancestors, a place to visit, pay homage, and find comfort and peace. Our ancestors and their descendents deserve more consideration and respect.

Submitted by:  Brent Crosby, Concerned St. George resident

Ed. notes: Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News. The matters stated and opinions given are those of the person submitting them. The following editor’s notes, keyed parenthetically in the letter, are provided for clarification:

  1. Schmidt said the quote given is attributable to an employee at the cemetery, not to himself.
  2. He did not request or agree to request samples himself, Schmidt said, but suggested it might be smart for Crosby to obtain water samples.
  3. St. George Director of Water Services, Scott Taylor, confirmed water to the St. George cemetery downtown is unfiltered; and water to the Tonaquint Cemetery derives at any given time from either or both of Gunlock Reservoir and reuse water from the city’s waste water treatment plant; both of those water sources are filtered.
  4. St. George cemeteries have close to 10,000 graves, Schmidt said, and close to 6,000 headstones in the old cemetery. They bring in crews for string trimming three times a year, but they trim around headstones regularly on an “as needed” basis.
  5. The sexton of Cedar City Cemetery is Craig Orton (not Larson). Of 14,000 lots total, 7,100 are actually in use, Orton said.
  6. Hurricane City’s Troy Mitchell is over cemeteries but he does not carry the title of sexton.

Exploration of the issues raised is beyond the scope of these editorial notes. The City of St. George has been and remains invited to submit a responsive letter since Nov. 4.

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8 Comments

  • DoubleTap November 13, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Aahhh…the policies of the “former” Mayor are beginning to become known. “28 hours per week to avoid benefits”??, probably for the same reasons to not filter the water for cemetery irrigation. “Selective code enforcement”???…hmmm. Didn’t the animal shelter fiasco provide any type of lesson to the city administration?? Mr. Pike has a new issue to take on as soon as he is sworn in….but…why wait till then? There is city staff that can address this issue now. We’ll see how this pans out. Stay tuned…

  • carrnel November 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    May I suggest Mr.Crosby that you form of concerned citizens and adopt the cemetery. Take a few hours a week and go pull weeds pick up trash and rearrange flowers and things. What a great way for you and others to help keep it looking good. Sure you say the city should care enough about it and do it but I am sure you know they only do what they want to and you can write all the letter you want and it won’t make a difference to the.

  • nikki watterson November 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    and i have heard from a st george cemetary worker that they dont care about the people buried or their families about anything placed at the graves they wait a few days or so then they throw everything away no matter the cost of the items placed there i have family buried there headstones broken stuff ran over and left on the headstones in peices i have contacted said sexton many times and nothing is done i want justice for all people buried there it is wrong to treat soilders and retired city employees buried there and their families deserve more care and respect.

  • stgeorgecityisajoke November 13, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    The citizens of St. George DO NOT need to spend their own time taking care of the cemetery. The city pays its employees to do it, and the fact of the matter, is the St. George City employees are told (at least in the parks department, especially the Forestry Crew) to get the job done as quickly and at less cost as possible. Even if that means using make shift ways to do it. And it is ALWAYS someone else’s fault. The seasonals are nobody’s and the full time employees are even dispensable. The supervisors and the people in charge need to spend LESS time driving around wasting city payed for gas in city paid trucks, and learn how to use some shovels theirselves. It’s about damn time that Mayor Dan got out of office, and I truly hope that Pike will do a better job. St. George needs to get its act together! It’s not a small town anymore, and the “Good Ol Boys” way of doing things is no longer working!!!

    • Nonbeliever November 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Interesting how the pattern of neglect and skimpy budgets becomes more apparent with time.
      Obviously the care and maintainence of certain city departments is glossed over with regularity .
      Saint George Cemetary,Saint George Animal Shelter….
      I am really impressed with the facts presented by Brent Crosby. It is good to see citizens take a stand.
      I can hardly wait to read the laundry list of excuses from the city.
      Will Esplin also blame the citizens for the condition of the Cemetary?
      Will the Mayor say “this is the first time he has heard of it?”

  • Kristin Schwiermann November 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Our city parks look like crap…you think they are going to take care of the cemetery?
    ?

  • Ken November 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    The author of this letter doesn’t want to know how many city employees are part time! Every department in this city is full of part timers. Strange with budget surpluses where all that money goes. I think we have a city manager who cares less as long as himself and his cronies in the private sector are making the big bucks. The city of St George supports and encourages poverty among part time employees with McDonald’s wages and never gives raises. Yet check out the salaries and benefits of the certain few. The agenda has been set and it’s time for Pike to show that he is different or his run may only last one term. I think the fleecing by the Mayor and City Manager are in there last days!

  • Monica November 14, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Totally agree!!

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