On the Agenda: Who Should Pay for Street Tree Upkeep?

The policy committee and tree advisory commission in the borough will discuss how to move forward.

The issue of who should pay for street tree maintenance and removal in Phoenixville hasn’t been settled yet.

Tuesday evening, the policy committee will devote its meeting to the issue and the tree advisory commission will be on hand to participate in the meeting. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in borough hall.

In the past, the borough maintained the 2,040 street trees. Of that number, approximately 1,200 abut residences or businesses. Due to budget constraints, no money was budgeted for regular tree maintenance or removal in 2011.

There is $10,000 in the account for emergencies, and $23,000 was carried over from 2010 as part of a $150,000 chunk of funding dedicated to completing a large backlog of trees needing service.

The typical tree budget annually was between $40,000 and $80,000. Now, with no money, the responsibility for paying for street tree maintenance and removal could fall on the homeowners and business owners who abut the trees.

However, in discussion so far, it seems the borough will still have control over the trees, so a homeowner wanting to trim or remove a street tree on the borough registry may have to come before the tree advisory commission to get the OK. Then, the homeowner would be responsible for the financial end of caring for the street trees.

At the April policy committee meeting, Borough Manager Jean Krack likened the funding for street trees in the borough to a retirement fund. The trees were planted forty, fifty or sixty years ago. However, no money was ever set aside for when the trees aged.

“The trees are retiring en masse,” Krack said. “We’ve got to address this for both sides [the borough and the residents] sooner rather than later.”

Paul Kusko, who chairs the tree advisory commission, said at the beginning of the program, many of the trees chosen were just what the borough had available rather than trees that were good fits for a street tree program. Additionally, they were “planted in the most difficult condition the tree could grow in,” between the sidewalk and street.

The number of requests for tree service has gone up in the past few years, Kusko said, and the borough was seeing more removals than before. A removal costs the borough approximately $1,500, while pruning costs $200 to $500.

Ten to 15 trees were removed per year several years ago. In the last few years, that number has been closer to 30. The borough contracts with professional tree services to take care of any issues with the trees.

Councilman James Evans (D-North), who heads the policy committee, said more time must be devoted to getting a workable ordinance in place for the financing of tree care. Councilman Dave Gautreau (R-East) agreed.

“I just think it’s too important of an issue to try to squeeze into an hour-long policy meeting,” Gautreau said.

Krack gave out copies of the existing ordinances, the one that established the tree advisory commission and the one putting the street tree program in place.

He said that two months ago, borough staff tried to draft a whole new ordinance to address the funding of street tree care.

“That didn’t go over well at all,” Krack said.

Looking at what’s already on the books, however, Krack explained that it never says the borough must pay for street tree maintenance and removal.

“It refers to costs, but it doesn’t necessarily define who pays the costs,” Krack said.

The ordinance says the borough pays when it has funds—which now, it doesn’t. The issue is further defining the financial responsibility.

“There needs to be a clearer definition of the ‘who’ and ‘how,’” Krack said.

The meeting on street trees will be held Tuesday at borough hall at 7 p.m. and the policy committee hopes to hear from the public.

To see the current ordinances dealing with street trees, visit the borough’s eCode page and click on Chapter 25.

Linda May 25, 2011 at 02:33 AM
OK - went to the borough Policy Meeting tonight, and the Main topic was the tree issue...I went in ready for static, and after I basically blasted the lack of mitigation, preparedness, financial issue and let them know I was a miffed homeowner with one of the Registered tree...I calmed down and the committee members where not only listening, but have heard most of it before from many others. Hears the deal - we need as many property owners with Registered tree to get to these meetings! Only do not come to fight, as I am not interested in our town being divided by foliage issues!!! After speaking one-on-one with several committee people tonight, I am more aware of the facts and think that we have a chance at getting this straightened out so that we are ok, the non-tree property people will be ok, and the borough will be able to redefine an ordinance that DOES need to be updated. Bottom line, the financing is not in the budget to deal with the trees...But if we work together and come up with some creative way to provide financing AND keep green, then I think it will be a win-win deal...
Bill N. May 25, 2011 at 02:04 PM
If you have a complaint about a home, you need to email David Boelker of Codes Enforcement. They'll come by, evaluate, and if needed, send a crew to mow the lawn and then send the bill to the owner. Trust me, he'll act on it...maybe immediately but he will assist you.
Bill N. May 25, 2011 at 02:10 PM
That's the best comment I've read here yet! As a town, we all need to come together and help out where we can. I pick up trash everywhere I walk in town. If I see something fishy, I tell one of my friends on either the police force or government. We can either waste everyone's time and energy by stomping around and complaining OR we can come together as a community and help each other out when the govt cannot assist. Think of it as Neighborhoods Helping Neighbors...sort of like Neighborhood Watch.
KPez May 25, 2011 at 02:32 PM
I had 2 trees removed with the stumps ground out, a retaining wall removed, the land grated over and seeded, trees on the the edge of my property pruned back, poles and a gate removed from my yard for $1500. I got qoutes from 4 local tree services. $1500 a tree is outrageous! I think the government is inefficient at using the funds available to them. No one in their right mind would personally pay that much to remove a tree. I think that they should allow the land owners to shop around to get more reasonable qoutes from tree services and the the government should provide the funding to remove the older trees. All recently planted trees should become the responsibility of the land owners and they should be allowed to care for the trees as they see fit just like any other tree on their property.
HeiligKuh September 07, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Street tree liability is a sticky legal issue for cities and one that isn't going away anytime soon. Enacting ordinances making the maintenance of those trees the responsibility of the homeowner is not going to relieve the City of it's legal liability for the lack of proper planting and maintenance practices prior to the existence of said ordinances or even afterward. There is still clear evidence of negligence on the part of the City with regard to the mitigation of hazardous conditions created by improperly maintained and/or planted street trees. Even if they pass ordinances shifting the maintenance onto the homeowner they still need to address the issue of past liability. Any homeowner who has a dangerous or questionable street tree(s) in front of their property should promptly notify the City via registered letter so they have proof of the Cities liability should that dangerous tree cause injury to another party. Should the City not respond in a reasonable amount of time then they will be clearly negligent and thus liable for said injury.


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