City evaluating options for roadside monuments

The City is seeking public input on a new policy regarding roadside memorials, such as this one for the Voss brothers at the accident site. The City is looking to standardize the monuments to avoid liability issues, and ensure drivers' vision is not blocked. [Michelle Chance]

You see them all around town, in neighborhoods and along main thoroughfares. They may not give you pause, but they are meaningful.

They are roadside memorial markers.

The city has long allowed residents to place markers at the site of traffic fatalities to honor the lives of those who perished. It is now seeking to codify how and where those monuments will be placed, maintained and paid for.

Code Enforcement Supervisor Wes Moss, during a presentation to City Council, outlined parameters for the new markers: standardized in size and design; installed by the Traffic Operations Division; made of aluminum; 15 inches in diameter and installed 36-42 inches above ground.

“Any memorial markers installed without approval or are out of compliance will be allowed to stand for no more than 21 days,” Moss said. “If the markers are identified as hazardous in any way they will be removed immediately. City staff will make an effort to contact the parties involved and return the markers that were placed.”

There will be no restrictions as to what streets upon which a monument could be placed – it could be wherever an incident took place within the city limits, so long as it does not interfere with traffic or visibility. The program would not apply outside the city limits – for example, on State Route 347 or on Gila River Indian Community land.

Mayor Nancy Smith said that while the city has laid out its preliminary parameters, it wants input from the public before making a final decision.

“We want to provide residents with a safe and respectful means to remember their loved ones,” Smith said. “The application process will be a short, one-page application that will be available on the city website.”

The cost of a monument would be $300 and would include construction, installation and maintenance for one year.

“We need feedback from the public on what their preferences are,” Smith said. “We want as much public comment as possible. It’s a sensitive issue and it’s important to us.”

Based on early input, Smith said city staff is leaning toward an up-front fee, then charging $50 per year for as long as five years to maintain the monuments should they be allowed to stand that long.

“I’ve lost really important people in my life,” she said. “One year after is not enough. It needs to be two, three, four or five years. The city will have options for people to choose from. Whatever we come up with, I think we need to have the ability to have criteria that allows someone to design their own or at least have a menu to choose from to make it more personal.”

Councilmember Amber Liermann said she favors a period longer than a year.

“I know first-year anniversary of something like this is often very significant to the family and loved ones,” Liermann said. “I agree with (Councilmember Bob) Marsh that one year is a little short in time, so maybe two or three years or longer to honor the loss of that family’s loved one.”

City Manager Rick Horst said the city must balance the desire to respect families’ wishes to honor loved ones with practical aspects of the program.

“We want to be respectful of those who may have passed in a road incident and/or road related incident,” Horst said. “But at the same time, some of these markers are now encroaching on the rights of way, some of them are impairing lines of sight and some are actually in utility easements where construction work is done routinely. In some cases, they are now putting in lights and they are distracting at night.”

He said if someone involved in a traffic accident were able to successfully claim they were distracted by one of these markers, the city could be liable, especially if the city knew there was a potential hazard and didn’t react to it.

“Our goal here is to provide an opportunity for those who want to have a long-lasting memorial…to present a uniform way in which that can be done,” he said.

Horst said the city would reserve the right to relocate or remove monuments if necessary.

“Many of them in town are in the way of construction growth and have to be removed,” he said. “Some of them were placed many months or years ago and have been long forgotten. Others have been placed years ago but have not been forgotten and it’s obvious that people still tend to them from time to time. It’s a way of bringing a unified, respectful way to recognize and remember those people.”

Horst asked residents interested in providing input to contact Code Compliance Supervisor Wes Moss at 520-316-6927, or by email at [email protected].