December 4, 2002
Tree City proposal sparks city commission debate

BY DEON LACKEY, WEEKLY STAFF WRITER

A resolution item on the Livingston City Commission agenda Monday, Dec. 2, to amend parts of the city’s tree code led to public comment and questions among the commission.

The 12-page ordinance, including revisions, sets up a Tree Board, expands the requirements for maintenance of trees, and defines the difference between a “street tree” (any tree on a property along a street in between the sidewalk and the curb) and a “park tree” (any tree planted in a public place not along a street). The resolution is part of a drive by the city to become a “Tree City, USA.”

The breakdown of the current budget showed $27,000 was spent for tree care. Clint Tinsley, director of public works, said that he only has one man working at city tree care. “We are in desperate need of help to manage trees,” he said, responding to questions from the commission. “It is badly needed, and we don’t have the manpower to get it done.” He also said that the city did not have the funding to increase its services.

Parts of the resolution which would require property owners to maintain trees technically owned by the city would help off-set cost of maintaining trees to a higher standard.

A citizen, however, objected to the resolution’s phrase “maintain for the trees survival and in compliance with the City’s requirement for street trees,” pointing out that since neither requirements nor maintenance were defined, the commission or the Tree Board could order expensive maintenance like professional spraying or pruning for trees he didn’t plant and couldn’t cut down without city permission.

City Manager Steve Golnar agreed that “the definition of maintenance is pretty broad.”

Commissioners Ed Davis, Tom Romans, and Lenny Gregrey all objected to that part of the resolution. “It’s nice to make things nicer,” Davis commented, “but it makes me wonder how much more is going to unloaded on property owners.”

Gregrey agreed. “That can make a lot of busy work for people and a lot of expense for the city and/or the property owner. It can be really cost prohibitive,” he continued. “Let’s be careful that we don’t create a Frankenstein that will march out of the castle and make trouble for the citizens.”

Romans had concerns about the Tree Board beyond that one clause, saying, “I didn’t realize that they would be granted some kind of authority like they are in this. As soon as this is legislated, they become the Tree Gestapo.”

Commissioner Sheryl Dahl disagreed. “It’s a resource, a valuable resource and tool for the people of Livingston,” she claimed, adding that similar boards, like the Historic Preservation Board, have worked for Livingston without degenerating into a “gestapo.”

After over an hour of debate, the commission passed the resolution, after the clause about maintenance was stricken. Romans was the single dissenting vote, citing the Tree Board itself, a requirement for being a Tree City, as too invasive. The resolution then has passed into its second public hearing, scheduled for the next board meeting, Dec. 16.