New Milford backs off tree fines
Published 4:04 pm, Tuesday, September 15, 2015
NEW MILFORD — Town officials are having second thoughts about a proposal to fine homeowners up to $250 a day for failure to remove hazardous trees and limbs.
The Town Council tabled a draft ordinance after several New Milford residents and tree-service owners appeared at a meeting last month to voice their opposition.
Shawn Emmons, a licensed arborist and owner of Emmons Tree and Landscaping Service, said the proposed fines are too high, given they would be levied from the moment homeowners are notified of a violation and it can take 10 days or more for customers to get estimates and have the work done. Even insurance companies give a property owner 60 days to take down a tree, he said.
“The time frame proposed could have property owners hiring uninsured tree companies to take the trees down, which could result in more problems,” Emmons said.
Besides, Emmons said, the town has trees marked eight years ago as hazardous but still not taken down.
Candlelight Farms owner Carl Dunham called on the town’s Department of Public Works to allocate money for tree work now being used for grass trimming along roadways and sidewalks. While resident Lisa Alexander supports the tree ordinance, she is opposed to the fine.
“Property owners often can’t afford to take trees down,” Alexander said. “It is very expensive. Adding a fine to the issue won’t make the trees come down any faster and will cost more for taxpayers.”
The speakers’ concerns were echoed by council members, who felt the proposed fine too punitive for property owners.
Council member Paul Szymanski opposed the ordinance, saying he had heard from 70 resident, saying “the intention is good but the implementation isn’t.”
Tree Warden Carlos Caridad said trees marked for removal as long as eight years ago still remain on town-owned property.
He said a former tree warden “did not have a good record-keeping system” and assumed Public Works would remove those trees.
Caridad said efforts to remove those trees are now under way, adding if he believes a tree is dangerous, he tells Public Works to take it down immediately.
The proposed $250-a-day fine was included in the draft ordinance by Town Attorney Randy DiBella, using the highest amount allowed by the state Legislature.
Caridad said he is “sensitive” about the cost and would only implement fines in extreme situations.