Budget will help cut them
The Winter Park City Commission took a large step to remove dead trees in Winter Park that could fall on residents and vehicles last Monday – an ongoing safety issue spanning the past decade.
Commissioners voted to modify the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year by moving $250,000 from the operating contingency fund to tree trimming and removal.
The added funds would cover the remaining tree costs for the new fiscal year, which was estimated at a total of $560,000 according to a recent study, City Manager Randy Knight said.
Commissioners insisted that the dangerous potential of the dead trees falling and causing injury or death needed to be taken care of.
“I have great concern regarding trees in this city,” Commissioner Steven Leary said. “Every time the crew comes out to take down a tree, they mark two more on the way. These trees are falling at a faster rate, and cities around the country are facing lawsuits and losing lawsuits in tens of millions of dollars.”
“I know we have liability insurance, but I’m still concerned for the safety of our residents.”
Leary said that city arborist Dru Dennison’s involvement sheds new light on the tree crisis in Winter Park.
“To the naked eye or the uneducated eye, people say ‘these trees look great,’ but a strong wind could just take the thing right down,” Leary said.
Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel said that many of the trees in Winter Park were planted 50 years ago all at once, causing a large wave of dying trees that the city must now contend with.
“As we move forward, we’re going to be wiser with what we plant and when we plant it,” Sprinkel said.
Mayor Ken Bradley agreed on the importance of removing the dead trees, but expressed concern of using half the operating contingency fund and potentially cutting the fiscal year’s reserve fund.
The City Commission pulls from the operating contingency fund when a study or other unexpected cost needs to be paid for in the middle of the fiscal year. Any money that isn’t used rolls into the reserves, which the city has now built up to more than $10 million.
“The reserves, to me, are as sacred as knocking the trees down,” Bradley said.
After much deliberation, the City Commission voted to move the $250,000 to tree removal and trimming by a vote of 4-1.
Knight said that there are several hundred trees that need to be removed in the city, and that there’s currently $100,000 in the tree preservation fund to replace them.
Leary admitted that the tree issue will always be ongoing, but said that the city should be able to catch up with the current tree removals in two to three years.
The proposed budget will go before the Commission for a first reading on Sept. 9, and the city’s urban forestry division will host a public meeting at the Winter Park Community Center on Sept. 30 to discuss its management plan.
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