City balances scarcity of funds with need for care
For 39 years Marietta has been recognized nationally by Tree City USA for its urban forest, but with the city’s finances suffering from cutbacks, $45,000 of appropriated funds toward infested tree removal was recently cut from the year’s budget.
According to Assistant Safety-Service Director Bill Dauber, last year $78,790 of city funds were spent on trees.
Of that, $2,925 went to the planting of new trees and $31,915 went to tree maintenance and trimming through the city’s general fund.
Additionally $40,000 went to removal of ash trees infested with Emerald Ash Borer, a green jewel beetle which infests several species of ash trees, and $3,950 went to maintenance of the infestation through the city’s streets budget.
This year in order to balance the streets budget the city has removed plans that would have paid for further removal of ash trees overly infested. Only $5,000 is currently budgeted for Emerald Ash Borer maintenance through the streets fund with $40,000 to go toward tree maintenance and trimming, and $3,000 set aside for tree planting through the general fund.
“We find ourselves at the point where our dollars can’t stretch any further,” said Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp. “Unfortunately this year the streets budget was upside down and we had to pull back the allocation for outside-city tree removal.”
But the city’s budget for tree trimming and basic maintenance has not been hit by the financial malaise.
“Everything from brushing against a home to hanging too low over a sidewalk or street, our crews will still go out to take care of,” said Hupp. “Any complaint on a city tree in the right-of-way or in our parks is noted and attended to.”
Streets Superintendent Todd Stockel said infested ash trees within the height realm that his crews can manage will still be removed in-house. The monies previously budgeted for removal were only for trees taller than 40 feet which needed to be contracted out, Hupp said.
Rhea Bockhurst, a tree commissioner for the city, said the threat of the insect lies in the speed at which an infestation can kill an ash tree.
“The larvae eat just beneath the bark, essentially strangling the tree,” he explained. “In fact woodpeckers are said to be able to hear the larvae eating and so a good tell of if there may be an infestation is if the birds frequent your ash tree.”
Recent wind and ice storms have brought trees down on cars in the last few months, including one last week, but city coffers and insurance have not had to cover those costs.
If a tree, its limbs or branches fall on a piece of property, or individual, the city is only liable to pay for damages if both a complaint had been previously lodged about that tree and the city had failed to tend to it.
“The city has the responsibility to either react to any event or to follow a notice that was given on a tree and mitigate action,” explained Dauber. “But when a wind, snow or ice storm kicks up and knocks off a branch, the city has no liability and the insurance sees such acts of God as no fault on our part.”
Asplundh Tree Expert Company Inc., as contracted through AEP Ohio, also removes trees and limbs within the city limits and throughout the valley that pose a danger to power lines. Several of the company’s trucks stage out of Indian Acres Park in Marietta for ease of access.
By the numbers
2017 Tree Budget:
¯ Tree maintenance: $40,000, out of city general fund.
¯ Tree planting: $3,000, out of city general fund.
¯ Emerald Ash Borer maintenance: $5,000, out of city streets fund.
¯ Emerald Ash Borer removal: $0.
2016 Tree Expenditures:
¯ Tree maintenance: $31,915, out of city general fund.
¯ Tree planting: $2,925, out of city general fund.
¯ Emerald Ash Borer maintenance: $3,950, out of city streets fund.
¯ Emerald Ash Borer removal: $40,000, out of city streets fund.
Source: Assistant Safety-Service Director Bill Dauber.