MapleA private contractor took down rotting swamp maples on Maple Avenue earlier this month. The Shade Tree Commission hopes to replace the trees this year.

These are lean budgetary times, but the rejuvenated Red Bank Shade Tree Committee is pushing hard for money and attention these days.

The goal on the funding side, committee members say, is to maintain momentum, especially from last year, when some 200 new trees were planted along borough streets.

In the municipal budget proposed by Red Bank officials earlier this month, the committee was one of only three borough operations said to have sought a funding increase, with a request for a 37-percent jump from current-year levels. (The others were Parks & Rec, seeking an additional 15.9 percent, and the volunteer fire department, 14.3 percent.)

In absolute terms, last year’s tree funding was about $30,500; this year, the committee has requested $41,900, says vice chariman Boris Kofman.

The tree committee says the increase is vital in light of lost state funding from the current year.

Viewed against overall spending, of course, the tree committee’s 2007-’08 allotment is relatively miniscule — less than four-tenths of one percent of the budget. A homeowner whose property was assessed last year at the average value of $406,000 paid $1,561 in local purposes taxes; the shade-tree portion of that was just $6.25.

Here’s a breakdown of the additional funding request, according to Kofman:

– About $5,000 extra for trees. Last year we had a State grant (about $25,000) for planting trees. This year we don’t have a grant, so we need to get the money from the borough.

– About $4,000 extra for removing hazardous trees. Although some can be removed by DPU, the larger ones would need to be done by a contractor.

– We budgeted an increase in the Arborist’s salary by about $1000. Since it’s a shared service with Little Silver, we don’t know what the actual increase will be.

– We requested $700 for safety training of DPU employees, and extra $400 for public education materials.

That state grant paid for 100 new trees planted throughout the borough last fall. Arborist Mike Olimpi, a big fan of fall planting, says the cool air and warm soil helps ensure survivability. And whereas one might normally expect about ten percent of new trees to die in their first year, Olimpi says he’d be surprised if more than 2 percent of the latest crop don’t make it.

Here’s a list of where the fall plantings occurred: Download 100_new_trees.doc

Now, the push is on to plant more, though committee member Medy Quiroz acknowledges that, “without a grant, we know it is not possible” to match last year’s 200-tree blitz.

“Some might say 200 is a lot of trees, so we can take a rest now,” says Quiroz. “But that is really just scratching the surface” of what the committee believes the borough needs.

She adds:

The STC started conducting an inventory of public trees in Red Bank in 2006. Based on current inventory of zones 1 and 5 which we finished last year and zone 2 which we just started – we have identified 268 planting locations. We still have to inventory zones 3 and 4 and finish zone 2. Not to mention trees that
have to be taken down (for various reasons) and replaced.

Here’s a committee report on its 2007 achievments: Download 2007_accomplishments_report.pdf

Not everybody loves a tree, though. Olimpi says he occasionally encounters residents who don’t want to rake leaves or have other objections to the installation of a new specimen in front of their homes.

Rare, though, is the case of the resident Olimpi encountered last fall. He and his crew were preparing to dig a hole for a new tree on Spring Street when the owner of a neighboring property “took it upon himself to come out and start snapping the branches off” the tree about to be planted.

The man’s complaint was simply that he didn’t want the treee, even if it was planted in front of his neighbor’s house. “He got emotional nasty,” says Olimpi. “He took his hat off and threw it in the street and began to break the branches. So I introduced myself and told him he could expect a summons, which he got.”

The resident was found guilty in municipal court of destroying borough property, and the tirade cost him about $400. Some of that money will go toward the planting of a tree this spring, says Olimpi.

As the borough’s shade tree code enforcement officer, Olimpi also lets homeowners know if they’ve got a tree with hazardous conditions that could affect pedestrians, vehicles or wires. Citations are infrequent, he says; the emphasis is on making homeowners aware of potential problems. Here’s the borough tree protection ordinance: Download tree_protection_ordinance.pdf

The committee (which in addition to Kofman and Quiroz includes Chairwoman Barbara Nevius, Councilwoman Grace Cangemi and citizen members Bill Brooks and Paul Sullivan) meets the second Thursday of each month at 7:30p in the council chambers.

Speaking of trees, state Senator Jennifer Beck of Red Bank has introduced legislation that would amend regulations that allow electric public utilities to clear-cut vegetation from under power lines.

The bill, S-1598, directs the Board of Public Utilities to prohibit an electric public utility from fully or partially removing from privately-owned property within a “wire zone” or “border zone,” as those terms are defined in the bill, any of the following goods or products: 1) agricultural crops, landscape nursery stock and Christmas tree plantation stock, which are sold for profit and do not exceed 12 feet in height; and 2) other vegetation not exceeding six feet in height.

Current regulations call for the removal of all vegetation over three feet in height. Beck says the changes would make regulations fairer to homeowners and farmers.

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