Who should dig Royalston’s graves?

  • Lawrence Brook Cemetery is one of several burial grounds in Royalston. The Selectboard would like to determine what role, if any, public works crews should play in digging graves in town-owned cemeteries. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Old Centre Cemetery in Royalston. The Selectboard would like to determine what role, if any, public works crews should play in digging graves in town-owned cemeteries. Staff photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/8/2021 1:37:22 PM
Modified: 7/8/2021 1:37:30 PM

ROYALSTON — Royalston’s Selectboard plans to meet with Public Works Director Keith Newton and members of the town’s Cemetery Commission at the board’s next meeting on July 20. The board would like to determine what role, if any, public works crews should play in digging graves in town-owned cemeteries.

Selectboard member Roland Hamel, who also serves on the Cemetery Commission, said at the board’s meeting Tuesday, July 6, that securing the services of private contractors to do the digging has become problematic.

“We have contractors that dig,” said Hamel, “but nobody wants to do that. The contractor we have now — he started last year — he’s too busy with his business.

“A funeral home calls and you’ve got three days to get that hole ready to do that burial. That’s just the way it is.”

Hamel pointed out that in most communities, it’s the Public Works Department that digs graves.

“Except for Royalston,” he pointed out. “Royalston used to do it. But for some reason they got out of it. But Keith (Newton) doesn’t want to get involved.”

“Fifty-something years ago, when my father died,” said Cemetery Commission Chair Roy Smith, “John Aalto was the highway supervisor; the town dug the graves. Somewhere down the line it didn’t happen anymore.

“One of the issues we have,” he continued, “with Royalston being ‘boulder city,’ (is) you get a guy who’s willing to come and do it, he starts to dig the hole, and he runs into a boulder the size of this table. Fortunately, sites have been big enough where they can jockey it around some. But no everybody wants to do it.

“On top of that, the guy digs the hole, he’s got to put the dirt somewhere. And if the burial is the next day, he has to come back — he has to move his equipment in and then move it out. Sometimes it would be more efficient if the highway department, they’ve got a one-ton truck, they could put the dirt on it. They’ve got a big enough backhoe to dig the hole.”

Smith said the town had previously contracted with Pete Lyman of Lyman Excavating in Phillipston who, despite being busy, agreed to provide the service. At present, the work is being done by landscaper Gordon Davis, owner of Just Scapin It in Templeton.

“But,” Smith continue, “with his own business, there’s going to be times he’s not going to be able to do it.”

In response to a question from board Chair Deb D’Amico, Smith said the cost of preparing the grave site is born by the family via their chosen funeral home. He said the town currently pays Davis $600 to do the digging.

“We (the Cemetery Commission) are going to meet soon,” said Hamel, “and we’re going to raise that rate up. We want to try to get like Winchendon, which is over $700. Athol is more than that. Royalston is low.”

The town also charges $75 for perpetual care.

“If the town were to take on this role,” said D’Amico, “the money would go …”

“To the town,” Hamel interjected.

“This is something we definitely have to talk to Keith about,” said board member Christ Long. “The kind of excavating the highway department does, they have experience with these very large boulders.”

“The have bigger equipment,” added Hamel.

“It does sound like something we have to put on the agenda for the next meeting,” said D’Amico, “to talk with Keith about this. So, are you suggesting we would use the DPW as a backup?”

“I would just like to see them do,” Smith replied. “Somebody wants to buy a grave, we set them up, get the paperwork all taken care of when the funeral home calls, lay out where the hole is, and then the DPW just go and dig it. That would be the ideal.”


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