To the Editor:

The New Milford town tree program has been driven into a ditch.

Shortly after taking office, the mayor sought to unilaterally disqualify the low bidding contractor for the town’s tree work based on his outrageous fabrication that this contractor had previously overbilled the town.

The tree bid had for years required that contractors quote unit prices, hourly rates as well as a dollar figure that reflected a hypothetical number of various size tree removals.

It was with the clear understanding that the hypothetical amount would not include storm work, pruning, Parks & Rec Department and road projects. The mayor used the difference in the hypothetical amount bid vs. the amount spent in previous years to mislead the public into thinking that the contractor had charged more than was quoted.

In reality, every bit of work performed had been at the direction of the town and in accordance with the per tree unit pricing or hourly rate as prescribed in the contract. It would later be revealed that the real reason for the mayor’s deceitful charade was a petty grudge that he held with this particular local business owner from years earlier.

For more than a year, the mayor has sought to artificially suppress the amount of money spent on tree work to support his original fabrication that the town was overbilled. For months, he refused to authorize a purchase order to have necessary tree work completed.

The result was dozens and dozens of dead and dangerous trees identified for removal waiting for many months to be removed even after being repeatedly warned by the director of Public Works and I regarding the safety risk to the public.

This egregious behavior put me, as tree warden, in an untenable position. Worse than that, it jeopardized the safety of town residents and created a huge liability for the town.

Given the mayor's repeated manipulation of the tree contract and disregard for public safety, I felt compelled to resign as tree warden.

Predictably, none of the local tree contractors are now willing to work for the town. These are companies whose owners live right here in New Milford and who have a loyalty to our community that out of town companies will not.

The mayor has said that we don’t need the local contractors and that the state’s low bidder list will provide contractors to do the town’s tree work. It is simply not the case. We will pay more, and get less.

Besides the significantly increased cost to taxpayers for routine tree work, we will eventually pay an even steeper price for losing local contractors. It is only a matter of time until we are hit with a major, statewide storm.

An ice storm, hurricane or a nor'easter will reveal that the out of town contractors have absolutely no loyalty to New Milford. Weeks could go by waiting for them to respond from halfway across the state.

Meanwhile, the local companies we lost will be tied up honoring their binding commitments to other towns to provide emergency response. We will be left with blocked roads for days….and even weeks. Once again the mayor’s decisions will have resulted in seriously compromised public safety.

I have been an Independent voter and a licensed arborist for 30 years. After proudly serving the town for many years at the request of both Republican and Democratic mayors on numerous commissions, committees and as tree warden, it pains me to see the town’s tree program subjected to such abuse of power and disregard for public safety.

The residents of New Milford deserve better.

Carlos Caridad

New Milford