With the recent abolition of the Shade Tree Commission, a lingering question remains. What should be done with the $80,000+ remaining in the Trees Inc. checkbook? There was some debate in council about this money and it was mentioned that since the borough made donations for several years, that money should be returned if it was not spent. The problem is that taxpayer money was commingled with other funds and Mr. Hylton has not provided an itemized list of how the taxpayer’s money was spent.
Council would like to use some or all the remaining money to set up a tree fund. It would seem right that this money be turned over to the borough now that the Shade Tree Commission is no more and the borough will be responsible for tree maintenance in Pottstown going forward. What exactly does Trees Inc. need this money for now? Trees Inc. and the Shade Tree Commission seem, to many people, to be the same entity. For example, by clicking on the Shade Tree Commission link on the borough website, one is redirected to the Trees Inc. website. Mr. Hylton was in charge of both entities, simultaneously.
Trees Inc. received $104,970 from Pottstown Borough between 2003 and 2007, according to what is published on their website. Yet looking at a screen print from the Trees Inc. website there was a paragraph that stated beginning in 2001 the borough began contributing about $21,000 annually. Another curiosity is that under Financial Info there appears to be no record of any contributions between 1988 and 2003? I must admit to being rather mystified that either no records were kept or no fundraising was done to keep adequate reserves for the maintenance of over 2500 trees for more than a decade!
Councilor Rhoads sent emails to former Shade Tree Commission Chairman Thomas Hylton requesting copies of all the original donations to Trees Inc. showing specifically what the money was used for, per contributor. This information would pinpoint what taxpayer money was or was not used for. Councilor Rhoads also requested a copy of the Trees Inc. budgets for 2001 and 2002 regarding the above mentioned paragraph stating Trees Inc. received contributions beginning in 2001 from the borough. Mr. Hylton has never responded to Councilor Rhoads’ request for this information. Also, the paragraph mentioning borough contributions starting in 2001 was removed from the Trees Inc. website.
The Trees Inc. website claims that “Pottstown has among the best maintained street trees in Pennsylvania at no cost to the taxpayer.” Since public funds were contributed this appears to be an inaccurate statement. Having sat through the last several Shade Tree Commission meetings, I can attest to the fact that taxpayers were treated very poorly when they approached the Shade Tree Commission for financial help with shade tree problems. Taxpayers were repeatedly told there was no money to aid them with tree problems. This cavalier attitude left homeowners to make choices like paying their property taxes or having a problem tree removed. I would say there was certainly a “cost” to the taxpayer. Trees Inc. had money available but refused to help residents claiming if we help you we will have to help everyone and then all the money will be gone. Did it ever occur to anyone to raise more money??? Fundraising should have been a continuous process thereby ensuring adequate money was available to maintain thousands of street trees. Again, what went on between 1988 and 2003???
Like the Shade Tree Commission, it would seem there is no longer a need for Trees Inc. Taxpayer money was given to Trees Inc. so unless Mr. Hylton can produce an itemized list showing specifically what the $104,970 was used for, he should give the remaining Trees Inc. money back to the people of Pottstown for the establishment of a tree fund. We are a financially challenged community, so do the right thing Mr. Hylton.