Missoula City Cemetery work

Missoula City Cemetery technicians Adam Hubel, front, and Dan Fernandez work in the military section of the cemetery earlier this year to lift and reset headstones that have settled over time, making them closer to ground level and thus, more visible. After the city announced plans last summer to provide engraving services on monuments for a fee, private businesses in town that provide the service objected, say it amounted to unfair competition.

The city cemetery walked back its proposed foray into offering monument engraving services Wednesday, under pressure from private companies and the Missoula City Council.

At a Parks and Conservation Committee meeting, cemetery board Co-Chair Paul Filicetti told the council they’d decided not to offer monument engraving services, which would have put them in competition with two local companies: Garden City Monument Services and Garden City Funeral Home.

“I feel like we’ve actually struck the right balance in addressing the important issues that the private sector has brought up,” Ward 3 representative Gwen Jones said. “To get into specific details would require a full mediation and this is not the correct forum for that.”

The city cemetery will retain sole rights to placing monument foundations and the monuments themselves in the cemetery, a job that used to be handled by private companies.

Disagreements over dimensions, how certain jobs were done and who was responsible for upkeep have put a rift between the cemetery’s board and director and local business owners, who feel they’re meeting expectations.

“We’ve been down this road with them,” cemetery Director Ron Regan said. “They back you into a corner … they don’t want to follow the rules and regulations.”

A proposed amendment from Ward 4 representative Jon Wilkins to split the monument-setting duties between the city and private companies was rebuffed by all parties, who either wanted to do all of the work or none.

“The head of a city department has told us this hasn’t worked, they’re trying to go back to the way it used to work,” Jones said. “I think … they should have control over that.”

The meeting Wednesday, and the change in offered services, came after an August City Council meeting (which was supposed to be the final hearing on the matter), when it became clear monument engraving would not actually be done by city cemetery employees, but outsourced to private companies, most likely out-of-state.

“In theory I don’t have an issue with the city selling monuments,” Ward 1 representative Heidi West said. “But I was sad to hear that they’d be outsourced to other states. That was a bit of a deal breaker for me.”

Rachel Parkin, an attorney representing the two monument companies, and Chamber of Commerce government affairs director Clint Burson both asked the city cemetery to sell their monument engraving equipment and consider the idea kaput.

One member of the committee, Ward 6 representative Michelle Cares, voted against the new ordinance, meaning it will undergo further discussion during the City Council’s next regular Monday meeting on Sept. 18.

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