City Budget Restores Funding For Street Tree Maintenance
Help is on the way for Queens property owners who have been overburdened for years by the cost of pruning and maintaining city street trees.
The City Council and the Bloomberg administration reached a last-minute agreement in recent budget talks that added $1.45 million for tree pruning to the Parks Department budget, in a move designed to help prevent accidents and cut response time on street tree complaints.
Queens property owners have for years been seeking answers to questions regarding maintenance of street trees planted under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Million Tree” incentive. The program is currently halfway to its goal of planting one million new street trees in communities throughout the five boroughs.
The Department of Parks and Recreation (DOP) has relied heavily on independent contractors to trim and maintain the city’s 600,000 street trees.
Trees in city parks and playgrounds are inspected by the city every two weeks by DOP supervisors who alert the DOP Forestry Division if they see a need for immediate maintenance.
But the question remains for many homeowners that have city trees on their sidewalks–who is responsible for upkeep of the trees?
If the city plants a tree (or trees) on your sidewalk you, the property owner, are responsible for simple maintenance for one year after planting.
Simple maintenance includes soil or mulch replacement, cleaning of tree bed and/or watering, when necessary.
If you have an older tree on your property (one-year and up), you may call 311 for all required maintenance, including pruning, root cutting, soil or mulch replacement and other repairs as necessary.
If a street tree located on your property has roots that are growing out of the sidewalk, breaking the cement, you may call 311 to ask for a Forestry crew to cut back the roots.
In many cases, workers will break open the sidewalk around the tree to create a larger tree cut that will allow the roots to grow without causing sidewalk damage, a Parks Department spokesperson said.
If the work results in damage to the sidewalk, the property owner is responsible to repair the damage, the spokesperson said.
The property owner may insist that the city repair the damage, if you can prove that the damage was caused by city tree maintenance crews. Proof should include before and after photos, along with photos and documentation showing how the damage occurred.
Community activists in Queens suggest that homeowners take a photo of newly-planted trees to provide proof of the sidewalk condition at the time of the planting.
If the sidewalk is not repaired in a timely fashion the property owner may be subject to a fine issued by the Department of Buildings.
Parks officials said the agency currently has no funds for the removal of tree stumps from city sidewalks.
Officials said workers would come out, on request, to cut down dead or dangerous trees–leaving the tree stump behind. The cash-strapped agency will not remove the tree stump from the sidewalk after the tree is cut down, officials said.
In cases where the stump is impeding pedestrian traffic or causing damage that could lead to accidental fall or injury, the property owner must pay to have the stump removed. Agency sources said tree stump removal is an expensive proposition, so many property owners are “simply refusing” to pay a landscaper to dig up the stumps.
Due to budget cuts, homeowners who requested tree pruning by DOP were forced to wait up to 15 years for the service. The backlog was due to a shortage of workers resulting from layoffs, city officials said.
The DOP is urging property owners to sign up for classes of instruction on how-to maintain street trees, including pruning, root maintenance, soil enhancement and other maintenance.
Anyone caught pruning, cutting or performing maintenance on city street trees who has not completed the how-to instruction will receive a summons and a fine determined at a court hearing, DOP officials said.
“The city is firm on this point,” a DOP spokesperson said. “Do not mess with city street trees.”
Property owners interested in attending the classes should call 311 for information. People who successfully complete the course will be issued a certificate stating they are trained in tree maintenance.
The $2 million in funding for street tree maintenance, while not permanent, will help DOP return to a seven-year pruning cycle, an agency spokesperson said.