Families take issue with Copperas Cove city cemetery maintenance
By BRITTANY FHOLER
When Mira Lopez went out to visit her daughter’s grave on the fourth of July, she was shocked to see the state of the city’s cemetery, with tall grass, weeds and an overall unkempt look.
She took to Facebook to voice her frustrations, and it turns out she is not the only Copperas Cove resident who is upset at what seemed to be a lack of cemetery groundskeeping and maintenance.
After Lopez went out to the cemetery again on July 14, she saw an improvement after a Parks and Recreation grounds maintenance worker had mowed most of the cemetery, but she said there were still spots throughout that needed more attention and weed eating.
The city’s cemetery, located at 415 Ave. A, was established in 1987 and sits on 88 acres. A majority of the portions containing the older gravesites also feature curbing that hinders the ability to use a ride-on mower and requires hand trimming of the grass and weeds.
Lopez’s daughter, Mona, was buried in her final resting place four years ago, and Lopez said that this has been a recurring issue, but seeing the way that Mona’s resting place looked, as well as other gravesites, brought Lopez to tears.
The lack of grounds maintenance at the cemetery showed disrespect to the people who are buried there, she said.
“This is the place for family members who have gone on, and they should respect this,” Lopez said. “This is their residence, as you would say. If you’re going to take care of yours at home, they should have the responsibility of taking care of it because that’s what we paid them to do basically.”
Lopez said that she has also noticed areas in the cemetery where the ground is starting to sink in and needs more dirt added to be leveled, like at Mona’s space, as well as a space nearby that still has a mound of dirt on top. She said that the city needs to tackle those issues as well.
She added that family members will come out to try to make their loved ones’ final resting place look nice, but they have jobs and get busy with life. Taking care of how the cemetery looks is the city’s job, she said.
Lopez said she liked the idea of inmates or even local church youth groups coming to help at the cemetery.
“I just want to get more awareness for some of the older families that are here that aren’t out here as often of what’s going on,” Lopez said.
Maintenance and groundskeeping of the cemetery is the responsibility of the Parks and Recreation Department.
Parks and Recreation grounds maintenance staff currently consists of five personnel who are responsible for the care of approximately 400 acres of park lands, according to Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Stoddard. The five are also tasked with performing maintenance on seven municipal buildings and four additional open areas of land in the city, to include the corner along Summers Road, a portion of Constitution Drive, along East Avenue D and the railroad tracks and the Santa Fe parking lot area.
The city cemetery itself has one part-time employee allotted to maintain the grounds, and this position had been vacant for the past six weeks before it was finally filled.
The part-time worker is at the cemetery grounds Monday through Thursday for five hours each day. It would take a crew of five approximately 18 hours to completely mow, weed-eat and edge the grounds in one full sweep, Stoddard said.
Stoddard added that additional Parks and Recreation grounds maintenance positions have been requested for multiple years, but funding for those positions has not been approved.
The condition of the cemetery has been a recurring issue almost annually.
Councilmember Joann Courtland said that she has received complaints about the cemetery in the past and had met with citizens and seen the issues firsthand. These types of encounters also resulted in getting more citizens onto the Cemetery Advisory Committee, Courtland said.
“With any budget item, looking at our budget overall is crucial to see if we can add additional positions to any department. It is something that would need to be looked at definitely,” Courtland said. “Some things to also look at to assist with these issues is other civic organizations to assist with the potential solutions of how to manage the cemetery to get volunteers to come out and help. We have lots of folks in our community that will come out to help others.”
Solutions have been sought in the past, without results.
In February 2017, the city council approved an agreement with Refuge Ministries for use of the church’s van to transport trustee prisoners from the Hughes Unit at the prison in Gatesville to provide maintenance at the cemetery, according to an article from 2017 by the Leader-Press. The agreement was for the inmates to be transported to the cemetery twice per month during the peak lawn maintenance season. However, that agreement ended in June of that year, when the city had been informed by the Hughes unit that prison personnel wouldn’t be available for the mowing.
At the time, then Park and Recreation Director Joe Brown told council that a crew of five laborers and light equipment operators maintained the 88 acres of cemetery space. He also said that city’s average was one full-time employee per 30 mowable acres, compared to the national average of one full-time employee per 12-19 acres of mowable space.
In August 2020, staffing issues had occurred with the cemetery. At that time, Stoddard said that a part-time cemetery position had been vacant for eight weeks along with two other maintenance staff positions. Also at that time, a group of resident volunteers mowed and cleaned up the cemetery themselves. Stoddard said last August that the city staff were working to set up a volunteer group.
The Cemetery Advisory Committee will meet again on August 11 at 1 p.m. at the Hills of Cove Golf Course. This meeting is open to the public.
Lopez said she plans to be at the next Cemetery Advisory Committee meeting and wants to be involved in making sure that the city addresses this issue and fixes it. She said she would like to see the city have two people doing the groundskeeping or have volunteer groups come in- just someone maintaining the grounds.
Stoddard is expected to give an update on the city cemetery during the Report Items portion at the next city council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, July 20, at 6 p.m.