AUSTIN (KXAN) — Sharon Weintraub said she visits the graves of her three family members at least once a week to pay her respects and maintain the plot’s rock-lined memorial garden.
They’re buried at the historic Austin Memorial Park Cemetery — three of more than 27,000 other burials on over 80 acres of land.
While Weintraub’s family and thousands of others are resting in peace underground, she said things aren’t as pleasant on the surface.
Weintraub contacted KXAN after a visit to her family’s graves in December, when she found the cemetery’s conditions to be unacceptable — “poor maintenance and disrespectful conditions.”
“There were numerous graves that had been defaced and desecrated by deep ruts and tire tracks,” Weintraub said. She also pointed out a rusted and leaning chain-link fence that borders the cemetery and fallen and leaning headstones.
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department told KXAN that staffing shortages and budget constraints have played a factor in its ability to make cemetery improvements and further explained that adverse weather conditions, including rain that saturated the ground, has led to damage when digging new graves, even though it used tracks meant to prevent indentations.
PARD said it will work with its crew to ensure compliance with Cemetery Operations standards, and is currently working with an approved vendor to replace fencing at both AMP and Evergreen Cemeteries.
According to the City of Austin website, cemetery operations is a division of PARD and it is responsible for the care and maintenance of buildings and grounds which includes:
- Repairing and maintaining fences, walls, buildings, roads and other improvements;
- Leveling and straightening memorials;
- Maintaining lawns, shrubbery, trees, and other plants
Weintraub told KXAN she and other family members have been alerting the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department of the need to improve conditions and preserve their gardens for nearly a decade. Weintraub said she’s attended multiple PARD community meetings where she has voiced her concerns and has created a blog and Facebook page dedicated to protecting Austin cemeteries.
The City of Austin is in the midst of updating its cemetery rules, which haven’t been changed since 1978.
Weintraub expressed concerns about some of the proposed rules that she worries could jeopardize the memorial garden surrounding her and other loved ones’ final resting places.
The proposed rules, published on Jan. 12, 2023, provide Cemetery Operations the discretionary authority to remove, without notice, any items it feels could interfere with cemetery operations or maintenance, which suggests rock-lined memorial gardens, such as Weintraub’s, could be removed.
PARD explained proper notice will be given before items are taken away.
“We understand implementing these rules pose challenges and we are more than willing to discuss individual needs with the understanding that we must preserve the rights of all customers and provide overall safety. With the updated rules and a continuous open line of communication, we hope to be able to better serve our community,” PARD stated.