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Council reduces cemetery fees for Oso slide victims

Arlington Public Works Director Jim Kelly presents a proposal on April 7 to reduce cemetery fees for the Oso mudslide victims. - Kirk Boxleitner
Arlington Public Works Director Jim Kelly presents a proposal on April 7 to reduce cemetery fees for the Oso mudslide victims.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Concerns about setting precedents were raised by Arlington City Council members who nonetheless wished to support their sister community of Oso, during the Council's discussions on Monday, April 7, of whether to reduce cemetery fees for the victims of the Oso mudslide.

Arlington Public Works Director Jim Kelly presented the proposal to reduce the cemetery fees for the Oso mudslide victims, to cover the cemetery's basic costs for the provision of its services.

"Those burial packages would cover only our direct labor and direct purchasing costs," Kelly said. "They'd reduce our fees by about 30 percent on average."

"These reductions were arrived at after city staff looked at what our costs were," Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert said. "We're not gifting public funds to members of the Oso community."

Arlington City Council member Debora Nelson was the first to voice her concerns about whether such a reduction in cemetery fees could set a precedent for possible future disasters.

"There are a limited number of Oso residents who will be taking advantage of this," Tolbert said.

"I do agree that we should be careful," City Council member Chris Raezer said, after he pointed out that Catholic Community Services of Western Washington is accepting donations to assist victims of the Oso slide with their funeral expenses. "I appreciate your oversight," he told Nelson.

"It would have been nice to discuss this before it came up for a vote," Nelson said. "When I spoke with citizens about this, they asked why it couldn't be privately funded."

"This is a touchy subject," Council member Marilyn Oertle said, as she echoed Nelson's lament at not being able to discuss the proposal prior to that evening's vote. "Even if we're not gifting public funds, we're still giving money to people who aren't citizens of Arlington, and we are supposed to be stewards of this city's money. Granted, it's not that much money."

Tolbert explained that the proposal came up recently enough that the only window of opportunity that the Council would have had to discuss it would have been on the fifth Monday of the month, which would have required calling a special meeting.

When Council member Jesica Stickles asked if the Darrington Cemetery was providing a similar service, Kelly informed her that it had fallen into a state of disrepair.

"This isn't going to be huge," Council member Jan Schuette said. "We need to reach out and give these people hope."

The reduction of cemetery fees for Oso slide victims was ultimately approved by a unanimous vote of the Council that same night.

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