BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Several city councilman said they weren’t comfortable setting cemetery fees that were intended to discourage local families from picking a weekend to bury loved one.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Fort Madison City Council, the council took up discussion on bumping city cemetery fees in some instances more than 100%, eventually voting 7-0 against the increase in lieu of another proposal that would show increases more reflective of city costs.
Under the proposal put together by City Public Works Director Larry Driscoll and City Clerk Melinda Blind, services for adults would increase from $850 to $1,500 on Saturdays, a 76% increase. On Sundays and holidays, the rate would go from $950 to $2,000 an increase of 111%. Saturday services for children/infants would go from $400 to $500 and on Sundays/holidays the rate would increase from $600 to $900. Children/Infants in Babyland would go from $400 to $600 on Saturdays and $600 to $1,000 on Sundays/holidays.
Other price increases were also proposed for urn vault services. There are no current charges for those services, but on Saturday, city staff is recommending a $1,200 charge and a $1,700 charge for Sundays/holidays.
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City Councilman Matt Mohrfeld said he heard from quite a few residents after the proposed increases were reported in local news outlets.
“I’m sure all of you have gotten feedback on this issue from people in town,” Mohrfeld said. “A couple of observations, I don’t know what’s driven the disproportionate amount on the Saturday. We can see we are trying to push people away on Saturday and I don’t agree that’s an appropriate use of a fee.”
Mohrfeld said the regular rates are lower than other areas and didn’t know why the city was in that position and didn’t know why the Saturday rate was so high. He said he understood an upcharge for Saturday.
“I buy my steaks the same price on Saturday at Fareway, as I do on Friday. So I guess I have to ask the question what is truly driving us now wanting these on Saturday,” Mohrfeld said.
Blind said during the month of November, four of six were on Saturday and she said one of those deaths was on the Saturday the week before.
“It was a choice of convenience, more or less, to have the burial on Saturday and this gets very difficult for the limited number of workers the city has to perform these duties,” Blind said.
Sara Jan Garza, of Fort Madison told the council the new rates favor the wealthy.
“What I’m hearing here is if you’re rich, you can afford Saturday or Sunday, if not…tough,” she said.
Mohrfeld said he would be in favor of finding the true costs of the services and set the percentage to contribute to the cost of overhead and spread that over each and every day.
“I think the cost should be the same every day, whether that be $500 or whether that be $750, I think that would be the appropriate way to go.”
David Varley, City Manager, said cemeteries are never going to pay for themselves. It’s just something we inherit and in this city we have a lot of cemeteries and it’s always going to be a money loser.
“Which ever way you guys want to go, we’ll make it work. It’s not a deal killer, we’re just trying to find ways to be a little more efficient. We thought we’d try this and if you’re not comfortable with it, we’ll try something else,” he said.
Councilman Bob Morawitz agreed that the rates should be spread out over each day of the week.
“Sounds like it’s just a manpower issue, more than a budget issue. We should spread that out all the days and not just the weekends. We’re just doing this to discourage people from doing it on the weekends because we have a manpower issue,” Morawitz said.
“That’s part of it,” Driscoll said.
Mayor Brad Randolph said the city should set the rates at a justifiable costs that cover the city’s costs and go from there.
“If we are able to justify or cover the costs in performing the service on a special day, I don’t think we should do a whole lot more than that. I would be more inclined to take the current $450 and current $200 and raise them all to $650 and leave the $850s on the weekends and assume the $200 difference covers the cost of my overtime,” Randolph said.
After the council rejected the fee increase, Randolph asked the city to return the discussion to the agenda at a later date with substantial changes to the structure for the council to consider again.