Lewis Griswold

Griswold: Kings County officials rescue veterans' grave markers

Four gravestones of military veterans found on a river bank in Kings County have been removed for proper disposal, the Kings County District Attorney's Office said.

The discarded headstones were being used for erosion control.

It's not against the law to use a headstone for something other than a grave, but the District Attorney's Office, which has several veterans on staff, believes the veterans deserve better, chief investigator Karl Anderson said.

He called Joe Wright, the county's veterans service officer, for advice.

Wright called the National Cemetery near Bakersfield, where director Cindy Van Bibber said she would properly dispose of them.

About 20 years ago, Van Bibber said, the National Cemetery Administration issued a rule that unwanted headstones must be rendered unreadable. In practice, this means breaking them up into pieces, she said.

All cemeteries should adopt the policy, Van Bibber said.

To toss aside a gravestone haphazardly could cause grief to survivors, she said: "This is not a dignified way for a family to find the name of their loved one."

The DA's office learned about the headstones Sept. 13 from a television news report.

The headstones of the World War II and Korean War-era veterans originated at Exeter District Cemetery.

General manager Roy Nelson said the families of the four veterans ordered replacement headstones as upgrades. Because the old ones were unneeded, they were given to Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District.

The district oversees water flows below Lake Kaweah and uses salvaged concrete and rocks to line river banks with "rip rap" to prevent erosion from floodwaters, said general manager Mark Larsen.

But after this incident -- "it's obviously a sensitive issue," he said -- the staff no longer will accept salvaged gravestones.

CAMPUS OFFICERS: Middle schools in Visalia will again have campus police officers if all the pieces fall into place.

Police Chief Colleen Mestas said last week that Visalia got $375,000 from the Community Oriented Policing Services grant program of the Department of Justice to fund three youth service officers for three years.

But the money doesn't cover all costs, so Visalia Unified is being asked to help cover the shortfall.

Superintendent Craig Wheaton said he is "optimistic" the money can be found.

The Kings County Sheriff's Department received $500,000 for campus officers and also is asking school districts to chip in, Assistant Sheriff Dave Putnam said.

Woodlake police received $227,362, Parlier $125,000 and Madera $125,000.

BUDGET: Tulare County supervisors last week approved the county's first $1 billion annual budget.

Property tax revenues are expected to grow about 3% this year, county administrative officer Jean Rousseau said. The growth follows four years of declining or barely steady assessed valuations.

Higher property taxes and sales taxes, increased state revenues and debt paydowns let the county give most employees a 3% pay raise, plus bump the reserve fund by $2 million to $22 million and unfreeze some positions, officials said.