It was reported that the City Council informed undertakers via a press release that as of Tuesday, January 1, 2013, the Council would authorize their own workers to perform several duties that are part of the burial process, including the construction of common graves and enclosed graves, the re-opening of graves at the Lord Ridge and Eternal Gardens Cemeteries, and the construction of “vault/mausoleum, tombstones, tomb tablets, statues, and niche in columbarium.”
Several undertakers who would lose considerable revenue as a result of such an arrangement had approached the media to express their outrage at this sudden change, which the undertakers had claimed caught them by surprise.
Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley told Amandala yesterday, Tuesday, that the primary reason for the Council taking over the cemetery services is to set a standard of construction.
“We want to regulate the construction of tombs and of course it’s more organized when we do it ourselves,” he said. “One of the problems that we had is that people construct tombs in the wrong place,” he further commented.
Bradley said that undertakers would get instructions on where they were to do construction, but oftentimes they would build in the wrong place, and that would lead to confusion. He said that a system had to be set in place to improve that situation.
The Mayor said that the policy was put in place awhile back, but it is just now being reinforced. He said that the Council is investing $75,000 in the upgrade of the Lord Ridge and Eternal Gardens Cemeteries, and that this operation is being carried out by the Council’s sanitation department.
Bradley said that it has been observed by the Council that many of the tombs are being re-opened at the Lord Ridge Cemetery because people do not want to go all the way to the Eternal Gardens Cemetery, which is located at Mile 13 on the Philip Goldson Highway.
“When the sanitation department looked at this, they realized that the construction of tombs is done to a very substantard level, and we are realizing this because there are lots of re-openings now,” he said. “And we’ve noticed that when the tombs are re-opened, the tombs are already destroyed, and this causes a public health issue. And so what we’ve done is to set standards in place on how to construct a tomb.”
The Mayor said that he believes that this will be to the benefit of the public, as the Council will be offering the services at a cheaper rate than the undertakers.
“We’re not doing it at a profit, we’re not making a profit from it,” he said. “When you go to the undertaker, the undertaker charges you for a profit, at a mark-up. We will only charge you what it costs us to build the tomb, and we will ensure that we do it at a certain standard.”
The Council had initially set their charges at $1,000. However, that price will be decreased to an undisclosed amount. Dion Leslie, Deputy Mayor and head of the Council’s sanitation department, said that the Council is still discussing what that new charge will be.
“We’re revisiting it and seeing what it will cost us to build a grave; it will include labor and everything and after that we will reveal the cost,” he said. “It’s nothing above a thousand,” he noted.
Leslie reiterated that they are not trying to make a profit from the services, so they are trying to find ways to make the costs affordable for the people. He said that the Council is more concerned about offering a better service for the people. For those who have already paid that $1,000 fee, Leslie said that it will be discussed what will be done, whether they will be refunded or not.
The Deputy Mayor said the cemetery falls under the authority of the City Council and by law, the Council is mandated to manage the upkeep of the cemetery. He said that some of the damaged graves are graves that were built only a few weeks, or months, ago.
“We observed the collapse of graves, fairly new graves,” he said. “So the decision was made that we were going to pursue quality control and have one standard of graves. The only way you could do that is to take it upon yourself, and so the City Council did that.”
Leslie said that currently there is no construction of new graves. Old graves and vaults will be re-opened and sealed properly in accordance with the Council’s guidelines. He said that standards for grave construction will include specific instructions on what type and quantity of materials should be used, at what dimensions, and at what depth graves must be dug. He said that although the Council is taking over construction, there will be an exception for families who do construction and insist that they must build their loved one’s grave as long as they are within compliance with the Council’s guidelines.
Leslie said that eventually, the Council might consider giving back the responsibilities to undertakers, but for the time being, the Council will remain in control of the cemeteries, what is constructed in them and how the construction is done.