Austintown trustees looking to compromise with residents on cemetery regulations
Austintown Township trustees held a meeting Tuesday night with the goal of reaching a compromise with residents on certain regulations on township cemeteries.
Trustees tell 21 News they've received multiple upset calls from mourning residents complaining that certain grave decorations were removed by the township's road department.
21 News spoke with Austintown resident, Lorraine Federovitch, who tells us she had placed her father's Navy medals and multiple American flags on his grave. Around mid-April, she found the medals and flags to have been removed by the road department.
The medals were placed back on the grave, but only after complaints to Austintown Police and township trustees.
Federovitch went on to say she saw other grave decorations from crosses to statues of the Virgin Mary removed from grave sites and thrown in the trash.
"The day that you take a cross or a Virgin Mary and throw it in a trash can, that's just evil," Federovitch said. "The road department came out here and they tore everything out, all of the pavers, flowers, crosses, Virgin Marys, the lambs, solar panels."
Township Trustee, Robert Santos tells 21 News that these rules have actually been in place for years, but had never been enforced. Santos confirmed that the road department removed the grave decorations based on the following rule:
"No obstructions will be permitted on any lots that hinder cemetery maintenance. No enclosures of any nature such as fences, copings, hedges, ditches, railings or curbing of any kind will be permitted around or upon any lot."
"I purposely put three-inch papers around their headstones because their headstones have been nicked by the lawnmowers," said Michelle Coggins of Girard.
Trustees recently voted to have these rules enforced, and according to Federovitch, the road department put notes near graves in violation of cemetery rules with a note warning residents to remove the decorations by a certain date. Federovitch tells us she never got this notification.
Santos tells 21 News he understands that these rules are vague and that the sudden removal of these grave decorations was a "heartbreak" to those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.
"Let's figure out some sort of compromise where you guys do what you've been going for years but at the same time, not impede on the road department's ability to care for our cemeteries," Santos said to the crowd Tuesday. Trustees offering metal flower holders as options or possibly a one to three foot border that the road department cant cross.
According to Township Trustee, Monica Deavers, other items removed include a plastic deer statue, solar lights and angel statues.
Deavers went on to address confusion regarding the cemeteries policy on flowers. According to township cemetery regulations, residents can indeed plant flowers at the grave of a loved one as long as they properly care for them throughout the season.
According to Deavers, flowers must be stored in a metal vase, as plastic ones could crack as a result of sunlight or weed wackers. The metal vase rule is not mentioned in the cemetery rules document.
"We just want our loved ones to be respected and be taken care of," said Rich Fink of Austintown. "My father had a sentimental item that was left here by my nephew for him and that item was thrown away. We received no notification. This time of year, this place should be gorgeous. And it was, a short time ago, it was. We understand completely having to change things. I agree 100% with some things."
A meeting was previously conducted with trustees and upset residents regarding compromises to allow for residents to continue leaving these decorations at their loved one's graves without violating any policies. These compromises will be discussed further at Tuesday night's meeting.
Santos says he's confident that trustees and residents will be able to come to compromise. The crowd even offered to help form a cemtery care committee to work with the township. The trustee's next step is to create legislation that would change the rules on what can and can't be placed on gravesites.