Shade Tree Commission Meeting
February 22, 2010 – 7:30 pm
City Hall, Third Floor meeting room
I attended my second Shade Tree Commission meeting Monday evening. I arrived a few minutes late.
Commissioners attending the meeting were Thomas Hylton (Chairman), Sherry Sweeney, Jody Rhoads, Kathleen Bortz and Kari Rising.
When I arrived Councilman Rhoads was requesting that the minutes from the last meeting be amended to include some additional information. He was reading my notes from the last meeting and requested that they be included. The committee voted to include this information.
There was discussion regarding the asphalt sidewalk project. One of the audience asked Mr. Hylton if he received the necessary permission from Borough Council to install asphalt sidewalks. Evidently Borough code only provides for concrete sidewalks in Pottstown. Mr. Hylton stated that he received permission from Ray Lopez, former Borough Manager, Jason Bobst, current Borough Manager as well as the Codes Department. Mr. Hylton also explained the epoxy coating process that is used to color the sidewalks. There has been a request made to amend the borough sidewalk ordinance to include the use of asphalt.
Another member of the audience asked for an explanation regarding Tom Hylton’s relationship to Trees, Inc. and the Pottstown Shade Tree Commission. The question was never really answered. Instead we had another lengthy rehashing of the history of Tree’s Inc, and the Shade Tree Commission by Hylton.
In the 1990’s Trees, Inc. decided to take care of all the trees on High Street feeling that it would be more cost effective to care for the shade trees in bulk. A maintenance plan was created, following a 5 – 6 year cycle and running throughout the borough, to provide care for shade trees. The hope was the $100,000 fund would provide sufficient interest each year to pay for any necessary tree maintenance, replacements etc… This has not proven to be the case. Between 2002 and 2008, the Borough of Pottstown gave Trees, Inc. approximately $21,000 per year to assist them financially with tree maintenance. In 2008 this practice was stopped. Since then Trees, Inc. has only done “tree triage” and has no money to fund the needed maintenance. However, it should be noted that $92,000 still exists in the Trees, Inc. fund.
Since Pottstown is no longer contributing funds, audits are no longer being done on Trees, Inc. Reviews are currently being done on the money coming in and going out of Trees, Inc. The reviews are less comprehensive than the audits and cost substantially less money. Since Trees, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization and no public money is being given, they do not feel the need to provide any information to the public on their finances.
Another resident complained that his sidewalk is raised 4 – 6 inches from the curb trees on his property. The property owner wants to know who he can get permission from to remove the trees. He was told to call Tom Hylton, they will discuss and then Mr. Hylton will send him a letter regarding the disposition of his tree problem.
Yet another borough resident, a senior on a fixed income, spoke of a Ginkgo tree on his property that poses a huge problem in terms of seeds and the vomit smell the tree gives off. The gentleman has asthma and can’t even open his windows in the summer time. The Ginkgo tree is pulling the French drain away from the house, lifting up the sidewalk, clogging the sewer and pushing up the curb. The street is also sinking as there is a dip in the street. Hylton stated residents have blanket permission to cut down Ginkgo trees. The resident stated Hylton refused to give permission to cut down the tree in the past. Of course, Hylton stated the resident is responsible for the cost of removing the tree and any repairs caused by the tree. According to Mr. Hylton, Trees Inc. never planted any Ginkgo trees. They were planted prior to the creation of Trees, Inc.
Another resident asked what the average cost of tree maintenance would be. She was quoted some statistics and left to do the math herself.
Councilman Rhoads stated he is working with the Borough Solicitor to change the tree ordinance. The new ordinance would make it necessary to plant a tree no less than 10 feet of a utility and 50 feet of an intersection.
Councilman Rhoads also read a letter from a resident regarding a curb tree that had been hit by a tractor trailer 5-6 years ago in the 800 block of N. Charlotte St. The tree was embedded with a piece of metal and the tree is leaning into the street where it is continually struck by trucks and the sidewalk is raising up. The resident was quoted $1800.00 to remove the tree by Todd’s Tree Service. He had to make a choice to remove the tree or pay his property tax. He chose to pay his taxes fearing he would lose his home.
Councilman Rhoads revisited a tree problem from the last meeting. An inquiry was done by Councilman Rhoads regarding a tree in the 200 block of N. Keim Street that was leaning into the street, causing a traffic hazard and needed to be removed. Again, the property owner is retired and on a fixed income. The property owner was at the last Shade Tree meeting to ask for assistance and was told he would have to pay for the removal himself. The property owner was told the Shade Tree Commission had no money to pay for the tree removal. Within two weeks after the meeting, the tree was mysteriously cut down. The property owner did not pay for the removal. Mr. Hylton denies any money came from Trees, Inc. or the Shade Tree Commission to pay for the tree removal. The inquiry response stated that the tree was removed at no cost to property owner. Who paid for the removal??
The question was raised about the new Trees, Inc. website. The shade tree inventory appears to have been condensed and is not as comprehensive as it had been in the past. Mr. Hylton maintained that information was still on the website some where.
Councilman Rhoads asked what criteria were used to determine the 30% estimate on sidewalks damaged by trees. Mr. Hylton replied that a study was done by a State College firm on what percentage of sidewalk problems in Pottstown is directly related to curb trees. He estimates 30%. Hylton stated the block survey, which took 2 years, was never completed and is inaccurate.
Councilman Rhoads also brought up two tree problems from the last meeting that Mr. Hylton stated he would look into:
1. A tree was replanted in the 900 block of High Street four feet from a utility. Mr. Hylton maintained that since an existing tree was already there, a new one was planted in its place. He has not looked into the matter as he stated he would at the last meeting. Councilman Rhoads again asked that this matter be looked in to.
2. A tree was replanted over a storm water arch in the 60’s block of N. Roland Street. At the last meeting Mr. Hylton said he would look into the matter and has not done so. Hylton argued with Councilman Rhoads about the size of the storm water arch and the threat this tree posed. Councilman Rhoads brought up the $400,000 repair on Walnut Street of a storm water arch and that it was a potential liability for the borough. Hylton again said he would look into the matter.
Councilman Rhoads asked Commissioners Sweeney and Rising to explain to the newly elected Commissioner Bortz what they had done in the last year as a member of the Shade Tree Commission. Mrs. Sweeney said she attended a meeting. Mrs. Rising said she takes calls from home owners and she visits locations with tree problems. She said she had visited 5 – 6 different locations checking out tree problems. Rising also stated she holds the rod when Hylton measures the trees. Councilman Rhoads echoed Mrs. Rising’s answer.
Councilman Rhoads brought up Mr. Hylton’s ties to Preservation Pottstown and the property at the corner of Beech and Charlotte Sts. where the European Tree Park was developed with a $60,000 private donation. This was the site of an abandoned gas station and had become a loitering area for drug dealers. Mr. Hylton maintained that he stopped attending Preservation Pottstown meetings 5 years ago but was involved with the transfer of the property at the 272 Beech Street from Preservation Pottstown to Trees, Inc. in 2007. The property owed two years worth of back taxes. Trees, Inc. paid the back taxes and currently pays the property tax for the European Tree Park located at 272 Beech St.
We were then treated to another tree propaganda speech by Mr. Hylton regarding the economic value of trees. Specifically that they have increased the property values in Pottstown by 3% of $36 million dollars and so on.
Councilman Rhoads brought up the fact that our tax dollars were put into the Trees, Inc. bowl of money. He also stated that this Trees, Inc. money is being used to pay the county, local and school taxes, along with the insurance on the property at 272 Beech St. This money is also being used to pay a subcontractor of Trees, Inc. to shovel snow, pick up leaves, twigs, branches and trash on the property at 272 Beech St. At this point Ms. Rising stepped in and claimed that donations to Trees, Inc. specified what that money was to be used for. There was nothing to back this up.
Councilman Rhoads requested all documents showing the discussion, motion and approval from the borough to give Trees, Inc. our tax dollars.
It was suggested that a fund be developed (as other towns have done) to provide assistance to homeowners with tree problems. It was suggested to Councilman Rhoads that Borough Council spearhead this project. Polly Weand suggested that money be raised somehow to pay for these problems to help shoulder the burden with property owners. Councilman Rhoads indicated that Council is seeking $200,000 from Montgomery County.
The meeting was adjourned.
As usual people left shaking their heads in disgust because we heard the same old song and dance from the Chairman Hylton and his bobble-heads on the commission. There is still a 3 – 2 majority of Hyltonites on the Commission which impedes Councilman Rhoads from effecting more positive changes to benefit property owners with tree problems in Pottstown.