Getting to the root of the issue

Pictured from left to right; Titusville Deputy Mayor William McCrillis, Mayor Jon Crouch, Councilperson Sara Jones and Shade Tree Commission members Robert Cartney and Barb Ives discuss what to do about taking down trees in the City.

Titusville City officials, members of City Council and members of Titusville’s Shade Tree Commission all agreed during a budget meeting on Monday that they need to get on the same page.

The meeting came as a result of the Shade Tree Commission having questions for the City that needed answers. The situation stems from major changes that the City made pertaining to how the commission operates.

Up until 2020, if you had a tree on your property in the space between the sidewalk and the street, the City’s Shade Tree Commission would take care of it. The group planted, trimmed, maintained and managed the takedowns of shade trees throughout the City, as they had done for decades.

What started as a discussion over the commission charging $300 for these takedowns, on the basis of it being a nuisance tax, ended with the result that the City would now manage all tree takedowns. Both of these changes were supposed to be made into the shade tree ordinance, but a year later, the ordinance remains the same. The City did pass a resolution to get rid of the removal fee, but have not made any other changes to the ordinance since.

For the past year, the City has taken control of the takeovers, even as the ordinance says that the Shade Tree Commission is responsible.

Four members of the Shade Tree Commission, Robert Cartney, Barb Ives, Janet Zehner and Darlene Frazier, asked about the ordinance, and sought clarification of what they considered grey areas that need to be worked out.

City officials said that their solicitor is currently working on an updated ordinance, and that these things take time.

One question that came up during the almost two-hour meeting is who should pay for the work needed on the various shade trees, specifically the ones between the sidewalk and the curb.

Shade tree members said that the City has been doing things the same way for decades, and that the changes sought out by the City are what have lead to the uncertainty.

City officials, including Finance Supervisor Heather Plowman said that the City has been picking up slack for too long.

Plowman told those in attendance that over the years, the money for tree takedowns — the most expensive part of what the commission offered — would be taken out of the general fund after the takedowns had been finished. These bills over the years would cost the City anywhere from $20,000 to $36,000 depending on how the trees faired that year.

City officials said that even with the collection of the $300 fee, the City was always operating at a deficit when it came to shade tree and tree removal.

City officials want the responsibility of the trees passed on to the property owners. Technically, the trees are owned by the property owners, but what the property owners are allowed to do is monitored by the City.

The Shade Tree Commission members in attendance however are worried what will happen to the City’s trees if the burden is left on the property owners.

“It is a community asset to have the trees,” said Cartney. “You would be losing the community aspect of keeping the trees.”

They are also worried that if the ordinance says the homeowners are responsible for removal, that some property owners would take down perfectly healthy trees just because they don’t like them.

“We are looking at the trees as an asset,” said Cartney. “You are looking at them like money, money, money.”

The meeting did feature productive discussion over the future of trees in the City, as the two entities tried to come to a consensus.

One of the City officials involved in the issue is Public Works Director Chris Roofner. When the City transferred responsibility from the Shade Tree Commission to the City, Roofner became the man in charge of the takedowns.

“This is the most miscommunicated ordinance,” said Roofner. Roofner said that if property owners could take over half of the responsibilities that the Public Works and Shade Tree Commission do, this issue would be much easier to resolve.

Some other problems were worked out as well, including miscommunication over their bank account, who is responsible for trees in city parks and what procedures the City is using to inquire about trees.

Both sides left the meeting with a better understanding over the issue and how to resolve it.

At the heart of the problem, according to Plowman, is that there is $10,000 budgeted for a service that realistically costs $25,000 a year.

The Shade Tree Commission and City officials will come back together after the solicitor has drawn up a draft of the new shade tree ordinance.

Mayor Jon Crouch was happy that both entities were able to talk. “This is a bigger job than any of us can do,” said Crouch.

Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.

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