Council sets rules and regs for cemetery
A flock of white crosses stand east of the Nome Airport on a hill where people have been laid to rest since prior to Nome becoming a town in 1901.
Last week, the Nome Common Council introduced a measure to put rules, maintenance and operation of the cemetery into the City’s book of laws. The ordinance does not have fees within it, but burial fees—possibly $400 for opening and shutting graves, plus $100 for the plot—will come along as regulations develop to implement the law, according to Tom Moran, city manager. Cemetery fees will go toward cemetery upkeep and maintenance.
Early last year, former Mayor Denise Michaels appointed an ad-hoc Cemetery Committee to guide managerial decisions concerning the future of the property. Most of the time throughout Nome’s history, volunteers have taken care of the burial ground. More recently, volunteers have committed much work to identifying graves and making new markers where many had disappeared throughout the past century. The advisory committee will additionally undertake the needed expansion of the cemetery.
The ordinance language stemmed from the Cemetery Committee looking at ordinances from around the state and selecting the Kenai law as the simplest and most close to suiting Nome’s cemetery situation.
The creation of Chapter 14 of the Nome Code of Ordinances creating a municipal cemetery will address administration, regulations, care of cemetery and the Nome Municipal Cemetery Advisory Committee. With adoption of the ordinance, due to come up at the April 10 regular council meeting, the cemetery will have a name: Nome Municipal Cemetery. The cemetery, subject to regulations in the ordinance, will be available to all persons regardless of race, creed or color.
The city clerk will have charge of assigning plots and maintaining records—maps, identifying gravesites before a burial, assigning numbers, and keeping files.
Responsibility for enforcing regulations will go to the parks and recreation director. The city manager, city clerk and parks and recreation director positions will establish regulations for purchasing plots and using the cemetery.
According to the new law regarding the cemetery, the City of Nome will have responsibility for up-keeping the appearance of the cemetery through a dual program under the parks and recreation and the public works departments.
Under the law, the City will have right of access at all times for maintenance, operations or emergency work, as well as have the right to change boundaries and configuration of the facility, according to need.
The City and parks and recreation department will oversee opening and closing of graves, plot preparation, burials and marker placement.
Councilman Tom Sparks wondered why the cemetery largely fell within the duties of the parks and recreation department.
The Cemetery Committee had held four quarterly meetings and discussed the cemetery management. Duties had been parsed out largely to departments already performing them, Moran said. The city clerk had handled maps at City Hall when people wanted plots and find people already buried. Parks and recreation department had already been taking of maintaining the cemetery grounds; public works had plowed roads, according to Moran.
Councilman Louis Green Sr. reported that constituents had commented that the City was taking over the cemetery.
“It’s our property,” Moran responded.
Green wondered why the City was taking over the grave digging.
The City couldn’t allow just anybody to dig graves.
“It’s going to collapse graves. We know where graves are,” Moran said. “This is municipal property; there are lots of unmarked graves, unfortunately.”
Sparks hoped that when the City set prices for burial plots, the issue would come back for council input.
“We just want to make sure it’s reasonable and families can stay together,” Sparks said.
The cemetery law provides for a cemetery advisory committee of up to nine community members appointed by the mayor. This group will plan and develop a cemetery addition, preserve history and take on other duties assigned by the mayor, city manager may designate from time to time.
The ordinance will come up at the April 10 Council meeting for second reading, public hearing and a vote for final passage.