The budget Barre City voters will consider on Town Meeting Day does not fund the position of Assistant Cemetery Director and members of the Cemetery Committee are warning that cut could cost the city more than it saves.
The over $11 million general fund budget Barre City voters will consider March 3 is the result of months of number crunching, which started with a survey. The survey asked residents to prioritize services in order to help the budget committee make some tough funding choices in a tight budget year. The resulting budget cut $240,438 in personnel expenses, including one position the city's Cemetery Committee says is essential. This week the Cemetery Committee drafted a letter to to the Barre City Council defending the position of Assistant Director of Cemeteries.
"While we understand that the City Council is preparing a tight budget with a minimal tax impact, eliminating this position will cost the city more than it saves," the committee's letter states. "The position of Assistant Director of Cemeteries and Parks is essential to Barre’s brand. Hope and Elmwood cemeteries and the granite quarries attract thousands of visitors each year. These tourists and visitors expect to see the cemeteries to be groomed and beautiful. We worry that, with the elimination of this position, the quality of the City’s cemeteries will degrade. Maintaining the quality of our cemeteries is already a struggle. This new budget should not be the first nail in Hope Cemetery’s coffin."
Cemetery Committee member Daniel Barlow noted the Assistant Director of Cemeteries is "the only position dedicated to maintaining the city’s cemeteries, overseeing burials and determine if new stones and monuments meet the strict requirements to be buried in the city’s cemeteries."
If the position is eliminated, Barlow said the job responsibilities will be split among other members of the city’s Parks Department. He said he is concerned that, while capable, those employees don’t have the specific expertise to complete tasks such as determining whether a new gravestone is made from Barre granite.
In its letter to the City Council, the Cemetery Committee pledged to work with the council to "make the case to voters that this budget, and the position of Assistant Cemetery Director, are valuable and worth supporting."
In the survey completed by 147 residents last fall, the Cemetery Department ranked next-to-last, only above the Assessor's Office, when respondents were asked to prioritize city departments in order of importance. However when respondents were asked to list services that should be added, at least once person responded the city needs to better maintain the cemeteries.