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Trees die, who pays?

Register • Mar 18, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Property owners are frustrated.

City officials are too.

Who must pay the the expense to remove dead or dying trees from the city-owned boulevards in front of homes and businesses is a moving target. For years, the city maintained its trees and regularly trimmed overgrown trees and removed the ones that were dead or dying. That means every resident in the city who pays income taxes shared the burden.

But that was before the state and federal government began cutting millions from Sandusky's annual budget, and the budgets of municipal governments across Ohio. It also was before the city's staff was cut by about one-third in the last decade since state and federal officials forced that to happen through their austerity efforts at the expense of local residents.

Today, demand has outstripped the city's ability to keep pace, both in manpower and the the cost to hire outside contractors. An estimated 300-plus dead or damaged trees already are on a waiting list for badly needed attention. This harsh winter is likely to make the problem worse, and failing to find a solution puts life and limb at risk.

If the cost to hire a contractor to remove dead city trees is just $1,000 per tree -- a low estimate -- the city needs to find more than $300,000 from somewhere to meet its obligation. Transferring the expense onto property owners without transferring the land to them as well doesn't seem to be something that can be accomplished lawfully, or fairly, in any event.

A city commission committee, however, recently proposed just that.

While we appreciate members of the committee -- volunteers -- seeking a solution to this thorny dilemma, it's difficult to see how the city can make that plan work. Residents who are impacted -- the ones whose homes are fronted by dead city trees -- likely won't accept that solution, and we don't see why they should. 

And failing to address the problem is not a good option, either. One harsh storm resulting in one fallen tree could result in death or serious injury, and the cost defending a lawsuit could make the that $300,000 price tag seem cheap.

The city's only real option, at this point, seems to be to try again.

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