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.