Tree care facing axe again
Improving city tree maintenance to acceptable levels may be headed to its third consecutive sacrifice on the altar of budget restraints. A staff report that will likely be debated at budget sessions on Wednesday or Thursday of this week, is recommending against the expenditure despite new confirmation of the need and calculations that part of the cost could be offset by new revenues.
Just prior to the last city election in 2003, councillors voted for a five-year cycle of tree trimming and maintenance that covered all urban areas in Hamilton, but didn’t approve the budget for the program in either 2004 or 2005.
In 2003, city-owned trees were trimmed only within the old city of Hamilton and only once every twelve years. That cycle has now slipped to 15 years and still doesn’t include about 100,000 trees in the former suburban municipalities.
Councillors took the unusual step last year of allocating $1 million from capital budget to catch up on a backlog of 6900 resident requests for maintenance of city-owned trees, but again balked at increasing the operating budget for regular trimming work.
The latest report says Stantec Consulting has confirmed the need for a five-year maintenance cycle and that a “street tree inventory [should] be completed as soon as possible”. At this point, the city calculates it owns about 75,000 trees in the older part of Hamilton. Its estimates for the suburban areas have dropped from 225,000 to 100,000.
Stantec agrees with forestry staff that the five-year cycle “approaches best practice standard” and would “optimize benefits derived from street tree infrastructure”. The report also warns of increased liability risks if no improvements are adopted. “[T]he longer the tree trimming cycle, the greater the risk of legal claims arising and the difficulty for the City to successfully defend such claims.”
A five-year phase in of the new trimming cycle would add $477,000 to this year’s operating budget – equivalent to about $2.25 per household. Increases in subsequent years would eventually raise this to $3.2 million, or about $15.30 per home.
The report envisions that Horizon Utilities would pay the city about $77,000 a year for trimming, but only if the work is done on hydro’s five-year cycle. It argues that such a partnership “is essential in providing best value from program resources and optimal program effectiveness through a single service provider.” Concerns have been raised in the past by forestry staff that hydro crews focus on their wires and don’t necessarily pay appropriate attention to the health of the trees they trim.
While it appears certain that forestry staff want to see the program adopted, their division is part of the public works department which is already seeking large spending increases for other areas such as waste management. The new staff report can be viewed at http://www.myhamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/D