Council debates the cost of grave digging
By Katie Zerr
A requested increase in the cost of digging graves in the two Mobridge Cemeteries ignited a debate at the Mobridge City Council meeting, Monday, Oct. 15, on whether the cost is a fair price for that service.
The city has a contract with Gregg’s Drilling and Excavation of Mobridge and received a request from Griewski for a cost increase. The cost of digging graves is not paid by the city, but by those paying for the funeral of the deceased.
In his request, Griewski pointed out there has been no increase in the cost of this service since 2009. He said the price of gas and diesel has increased considerably since that time. He requested an increase of $25 to $150 for the variety of services he provides.
The cost includes staking out the grave, digging and closing graves as well as reasonable dirt cleanup in the summer. Digging graves in the winter is more labor intense as it includes the additional work of snow removal from the grave area and using a heating box to enable the digging of the grave.
Ward III Councilman Gene Cox asked if it were time for the city to considering purchasing a backhoe and digging the graves in the city-owned cemeteries. He said the council had discussed the grave digging fees a couple of times since he had been on the council and he wondered if it was time for the city to take over the job.
Other members asked how many graves would have to be dug to justify buying a backhoe, who would operate the backho, would the city be able to make it cost effective.
Ward II Councilwoman Amy Cerney asked if there were other companys interested in bidding for the service.
“The company we have now is extremely familiar with the cemetery layout and everything is divided into plots and graves. We have never had anyone else, to my knowledge, want to do the job,” said Mobridge Finance Officer Heather Beck. “We can’t just have anybody out there digging the graves. It all has to be measured and plotted.”
Ward I Councilwoman Rose Henderson asked if there was a cost comparison with other communities for the same service. Beck said she would research the cost in other communities.
Mayor Jamie Dietterle said the company that does the work is a reputable company that has always done good work. The council discussed the cost of a backhoe, operation and overhead and if it would be justifiable to move in that direction.
The council approved having Mobridge City Attorney Rick Cain amend the ordinance and also change the manner in which the fees could be set through resolution rather than going through the ordinance change process.
They also approved increasing the fees if the research Beck does finds the costs are in line with other communities and have Ward I Councilman Tom O’Connell research the cost of a backhoe.
Mobridge City Administrator Steve Gasser received a letter from Michael and Mickele Lee who own a lot on Railroad Street, concerning the sale of the property.
The Lees were expressing their disappointment that city ordinances would not allow a structure to be built on the lot (it is too small according to city ordinance) nor would the city allow them to put a travel trailer on the lot.
They said they had owned the lot since 2000 and when they purchased it, there were two converted railroad cars on the lot. They gave the city permission to tear those cars down during the “Clean Up South Dakota” program with the intention of using the lot as place to put their travel trailer in order to be able to use it while they visited Mobridge. They have continued to pay taxes on the property and paid to have it mowed.
They said since they could not use it in the manner in which they wanted, they attempted to sell the land. They had a buyer and a deal had been made but the buyer, upon finding out that the lot was zoned as residential and he could not use it a camping place when he visited Mobridge, backed out of the deal.
A second buyer was found, but they too, became discouraged when they found out about ordinance requirements for putting a structure on the property.
Since the Lees could not use the property and could not sell the property because of the city’s ordinance restrictions, they requested that the city buy the property for $2,500 and reimburse them for part of the mowing fees they have paid over the years. If the city will not purchase the land, they will be forced to take legal action against the city.
Zoning officer Harley Overseth told the council the lot is 6,300 square feet and the ordinance requirement for a structure is 7,000 square feet. Overseth told the council the Lees could also have chosen to use a variance request for their plans, but had chosen not to go that route.
He told the council people should look into ordinances before they make a purchase to ensure they are able to follow through with plans. That would eliminate these types of problems.
He said Fishermen’s Haven, an area where campers have been set by non-residents is a special circumstance and it has been grandfathered in. He said theother lot is zoned residential and therefore cannot be used for campers.
Cain told the council there was no law that he could find that would require the city to purchase the land and Dietterle agreed that there is no reason the city would purchase the land at this time.