New Rochelle City Council Debated Backlog of Dead Trees in Month Before Child Seriously Injured by Falling Tree on Halloween

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The City of New Rochelle has long had a history of not budgeting enough funds for tree maintenance and tree removal – a failure that moved to the front burner last night when a child was seriously injured by a falling tree while trick-or-treating on Wednesday.

The City of New Rochelle Bureau of Forestry website warns that although trees requiring some action on the part of the City are placed on a list they are only “addressed as staffing and funding becomes available for such work” noting that the “volume of work can exceed the funds available in any particular fiscal year”.

Last month, this concern was front and center during a presentation to the New Rochelle City Council by Department of Public Works Commissioner Scott Pickup at a Committee of the Whole Meeting on September 10, 2019. The discussion item was a Proposed Amendment to 2019 City Budget for Funding for Tree Maintenance Contract.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of requests from people that are anxious about their trees,” said Pickup as he explained the need for council to approve a budget transfer from a Tree Planting Fund to deal with removal of dead or diseased trees. “We have a lot of mature trees you guys are well aware of, some that are decayed and in various states, and we just can’t keep up with the demand.”

Pickup noted that there have been injuries to City workers due to falling tree limbs. Over the past year, there were direct hits on city workers at Hudson Park and Neptune Park and a near miss at Roosevelt Park involving children and parents in the park.

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson opposed the Proposed Amendment to 2019 City Budget because it took unused money from a Tree Planting Fund to pay for a tree removal contract.

“I fully support expending the funds for this necessary tree maintenance,” said Bramson who opposed the way it was being done, adding “there is something kind of perverse about using money specifically for expanding our tree stock to remove those trees”.

The following week, Bramson told City Council he had received a memorandum from the City Manager assuring him that the Tree Planting funds “will be replenished in next year’s budget making this really just sort of a cash flow issue.” The resolution was adopted unanimously.

Bramson has pushed hard over the years for more tree planting. He has often clashed with the City Manager and his staff who have advocated for more funding for tree maintenance and tree removal.

The tension was apparent at the meeting.

“The Mayor has expressed to me on more than one occasion he’d like to see that we’re working on some larger scale planting in parks as well as our normal replacement program with housing and in right-of-way so hoping that we can meet those demands as well,” said Pickup.

City Manager Charles B. Strome added, “you can rest assured if the Mayor has mentioned this to you on multiple occasions you can quadruple the amount of times he has mentioned it to me in our discussions.”

Strome repeatedly mentioned there was “discomfort” with “some folks” in “discussions” while motioning that he was referencing Mayor Noam Bramson with Bramson interjecting in agreement.

Strome explained that he took “a broader view of the account” because he did not think the City could possibly plant as many trees as were budgeted for in the Tree Planting Fund.

Sources inside City Hall question the Mayor’s focus on planting new trees while not allocating more funds to maintain existing trees.

“Rather than planting new trees we ought to be more focused on maintaining our existing stock of trees to prevent the spread of disease and falling trees damaging otherwise healthy trees,” said one source at City Hall who asked not to be identified. “And we need to remove decayed trees sooner”.

New Rochelle Council Member Albert Tarantino was unfortunately prescient in raising concerns about the City’s failure to remove dead trees and problems dealing with Con Edison.

“I would hate to see one of these branches or trees come down on some of our residents so I think we really need to take a good hard look at the inventory of trees and the ones that need to be taken care of, we need not put them off for the next year or the year after we need to take care of them now.”

Tarantino specifically mentioned trees on Pinebrook Boulevard near the Mayor’s house, less than five blocks from where a tree fell on a 9-year old girl, causing serious injuries including multiple fractures.

“Driving up Pinebrook Boulevard you have trees that you can see massive holes in them, trees are ready to fall down and while we’re planting trees we’re not maintaining them,” said Tarantino.

Tarantino also brought the failure of local utilities like Con Edison to do annual tree maintenance.

“Years ago there was a program in place on a year to year basis cleaning trees up, trimming around wires now it seems the utilities have taken that ‘we’re not going to worry about it but when a storm comes and knocks out trees will just take care of that but we’ve saved millions and millions of dollars in maintenance’ by not on a yearly basis cleaning up the branches that are hanging throughout the City.”

“I’ve spoken to people at Con Edison,” said Tarantino. “They say that you know ‘its not cost effective, it’s better to wait for a storm to clean up the area’ it saves them tens of millions of dollars.”

Strome acknowledged that utilities have for years abandoned annual maintenance.

“What they have done, I think they were forced to do it by the PSC after some of these storms was they have contracted with a tree cutting company to go around to all of the communities of Westchester where the really bad situations are, where the trees have really gone through the utilities they do what they call “topping” which essentially makes the tree the ugliest eyesore you can imagine they basically make it a big thing and inevitably we’re asked to remove the tree, healthy or not, after they’ve topped it.”

Strome noted that the City does reach out to companies like Con Edison when they see problems but the City cannot remove tree until the utilities get the branches out of the way.

RELATED:

Trick-or-Treater Seriously Injured by Falling Tree in New Rochelle

Talk of the Sound prepared a rough transcript of the Tree Maintenance Contract discussion at the City Council Meetings on September 10th and September 17th. We have appended them below with a link to the video of the two meetings for readers who care to delve deeper into this matter. These are not meant to be official or complete transcripts but rather notes we prepared as research for this article. The video is the official record of the meetings.

TRANSCRIPTS & VIDEO

Committee of the Whole Discussion of Proposed Amendment to 2019 City Budget for Funding for Tree Maintenance Contract on September 10, 2019

ROUGH TRANSCRIPT

New Rochelle DPW Commissioner Scott Pickup

We have had an active year with all of these windstorms, and these little isolated sort of short microbursts type of storms we’ve had a tremendous amount of requests from people that are anxious about their trees we have a lot of mature trees you guys are well aware of some that are decayed and in various states and we just can’t keep up with the demand so this contract will at least get us hopefully caught up since the last group of storms from last March and through the summer and we’re hopeful that then get more aggressive on our planting program which the Mayor has expressed to me on more than one occasion he’d like to see that we’re working on some larger scale planting in parks as well as our normal replacement program with housing and in right-of-way so hoping that we can meet those demands as well.

New Rochelle City Manager Chuck Strome

So, I’ll just add that you do realize this money is coming from the Tree Planting Budget and you can rest assured if the Mayor has mentioned this to you on multiple occasions you can quadruple the amount of times he has mentioned it to me in our discussions and I understand that there is some discomfort…

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson

Yes

Strome

…taking money that is designated for tree planting and using it to for removals…

Bramson

Yeah

Strome

I take a broader view of the account because I don’t think we can possibly plant as many trees with as much money as we have. I don’t anticipate we’re going to run out of money in the tree planting fund but I do recognize its a discomfort for some folks. We have talked about it (motioning to Noam) and I have agree that at the very least between now and next week we can look to see if we can determine any alternative funding for this (crosstalk)

Bramson

I do appreciate that and you certainly anticipated the comment I was going to make. To be clear I fully support expending the funds for this necessary tree maintenance it really for me is purely a matter of which pocket are we taking that funding from. You’re correct and I appreciate that we are doing much better on tree planting than we have done historically, the Plant-a-Tree program has been well publicized, lots of trees have gone out through that. I know we are looking at public locations, parks and so forth so I feel reasonably confident that we will gradually be ramping up the use of the Tree Fund for its intended purpose and it does seem to me there is something kind of perverse about using money specifically for expanding our tree stock to remove those trees so I would feel better if you could come back to use with an alternative that we can consider. I realize to some degree its just an accounting measure, the money’s fungible but I would like to preserve the Tree Planting Fund for the purpose that it was specially designed to accomplish so…

Strome (addressing Bramson)

So if you would just hold this until next week ….

Bramson

Councilman Trangucci

New Rochelle Councilman Louis Trangucci

Commissioner, as it relates to trees does the arborist go to parks and just evaluate trees as far as condition of safety or if there’s any trees that are dead to remove them?

Pickup

He does. We are having some infestations and that was part of the you know, we had some injuries where trees had fallen on some of our employees so we’re having to take out substantial amounts I think the Ash Bore problem.

Strome

Part of the tree planting contract that we’re going to undertake is a rather significant planting I believe in Neptune Park

Pickup

That’s where we have the Ash Bore problem right now.

Strome

We’re not looking to remove there we’re going to plant. The Deputy Parks Commissioner has been working with the Forester directly and they will go around through the park to see whether there is opportunities to plant trees. I would say right now our problem in most of the parks is the decaying trees so…

Trangucci

So there is a community inspection the arborist would do

Pickup

We’re working on, yes.

Bramson: Councilman Tarantino (crosstalk)

Council Member Albert Tarantino

As far as the trees, I missed the beginning and I apologize for that. You know the concern is what Chuck just brought up about the condition of the trees on different streets and different areas, parks and otherwise, an example is driving up Pinebrook Boulevard you have trees that you can see massive holes in them, trees are ready to fall down and while we’re planting trees we’re not maintaining them. The other issue is that the utilities, you know years ago there was a program in place on a year to year basis cleaning trees up, trimming around wires now it seems the utilities have taken that “we’re not going to worry about it but when a storm comes and knocks out trees will just take care of that but we’ve saved millions and millions of dollars in maintenance but not on a yearly basis cleaning up the branches that are hanging through…

Council Member Barry Fertel (crosstalk)

Tarantino

…but I’m talking about throughout the City. I am talking about years ago you would see Con Ed and other companies contracted with tree services to clean up the pathway of the wiring. They don’t do that anymore. I’ve spoken to people at Con Edison and they say that you know “its not cost effective its better to wait for a storm clean up the area” it saves them tens of millions of dollars

Strome

Part of what you said is accurate and part of it is a little off. The part of it is they have abandoned for year the annual maintenance. What they have done, I think they were forced to do it by the PSC after some of these storms was they have contracted with a tree cutting company to go around to all of the communities of Westchester where the really bad situations are, where the trees have really gone through the utilities they do what they call “topping” which essentially makes the tree the ugliest eyesore you can imagine they basically make it a big thing and inevitably we’re asked to remove the tree, healthy or not, after they’ve topped it so

CROSSTALK

Tarantino

The other issue is do we have an ability to reach out to a company like Con Edison when you see it do we observe these problems.

CROSSTALK

Tarantino

We do reach out to them? And other issue is…

Strome

Remember we cannot remove tree until they get the branches out of the way

Tarantino

The other issue is policy in place that we do not in these tree planting programs plant trees under wiring

Pickup

We have a tree planting list that has trees that are specifically for planting in the right-of-way so they don’t grow to where they interfere

Tarantino

And so they’re being planted under wires?

Pickup

They’re being planted in the right-of-way they try to avoid the wires based on the type of tree and canopy (crosstalk)

Tarantino

We have all over the city trees we plant and then all of a sudden 5, 6, 7, 10 years whatever they’re growing into the wires

Strome

No. We’ve changed our acceptable tree (crosstalk)

Tarantino

That’s the point. Maybe we should be looking at a program where you can only under a wire, you can only put a certain type of tree because there are trees that will not grow…

Strome

That’s what we did (crosstalk). We recently revised our acceptable species and for right-of-ways there are only certain ones that are allowed and they only grow to a certain height.

Tarantino

And another thing I want to say is going down to Hudson Park and every time I walk around there and also a couple of the other parks I notice that there are a lot of trees that need care and you know we should make sure that in the next budget that we put enough money aside to take care of these problems so that you know we’re look to revitalize these parks which means more people walking around, and more children in these parks and I would hate to see one of these branches or trees come down on some of our residents so I think we really need to take a good hard look at the inventory of trees and the ones that need to be taken care of, we need not put them off for the next year or the year after we need to take care of them now

Strome

I think you were out when I mentioned the Forester is working directly with the Deputy Parks Commissioner.

Tarantino

I wasn’t here at the beginning. That’s it.

Council Vote on Proposed Amendment to 2019 City Budget for Funding for Tree Maintenance Contract at the Regular Legislative Meeting on September 17, 2019

Bramson

Item 11 is a Proposed Amendment to 2019 City Budget regarding for Funding for the Tree Maintenance Contract. We did receive a memo in response to the questions I posed last week. While I am still not particularly happy about transferring the funds out of monies that are intended for tree planting with the City Manager’s assurance that those funds will be replenished in next year’s budget making this really just sort of a cash flow issue I am satisfied and prepared to move forward with this Are there any further questions on Item 11?

(Item 11 is unanimously adopted)

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