By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on 3/6/23, the Fairhaven Select Board opened up the discussion again on the Non-hazardous Tree Removal Policy, after receiving correspondence from Planning Board chairperson Wayne Hayward, who had concerns about the proposal.
Select Board member Bob Espindola said he asked for the reconsideration because Mr. Hayward brought up points the board had not considered. Mr. Espindola also noted that Mr. Hayward sent another email on the same day as the meeting.
Mr. Hayward provided a copy of his 3/6/23 email to the Neighb News. In it, he said he agreed with the description of shade trees as “valuable assets.”
“However, the Draft Policy is devoid of actual language to protect those valuable assets,” wrote Mr. Hayward. “It sets forth a pricing scheme that essentially places a bounty on all Public Shade Trees, counter to the purpose of the General section. By setting the price tag for the removal of Public Shade Trees, the improper response will surely be from residents who can merely afford to pay to remove trees, a legal path to remove perfectly healthy trees.”
He said the policy will allow anyone to remove a tree simply because they do not like to rake leaves, or it blocks their view, to put a second driveway in for a motor-home, or “solely to cause distress to a foe,” as long as the resident has the money.
Mr. Hayward said the new policy will perpetuate large scale removal of public shade trees. He said it should not be adopted unless language is included to protect trees.
Mr. Hayward also refers to the Planning Board bylaw drafted to protect trees that was not allowed to go to Town Meeting because the Select Board quashed it. One of the provisions in that proposed bylaw would require the Tree Warden to hold hearings with another board, not on his own.
“Public Shade tree hearings are seldomly held solely by a Tree warden in most communities and are usually held in combination with Planning Boards, Boards of Selectmen or Tree Committees,” wrote Mr. Hayward. “Allowing one singular person to make these decisions is potentially corruptive and should be avoided.”
He also included language from several other communities and the Department of Conservation and Recreation; and recommended that Fairhaven create a tree committee.
Don Collasius, Fairhaven Tree Warden, said the “primary author” of his policy said the policy has had the opposite effect.
Mr. Collasius said he has had about 20 requests to remove trees in the past two years, about half of them “serious.” He said people come up with a lot of different reasons to want trees removed, including they stain the driveway, clog up swimming pool filters.
Some are “more valid’ than others, he said. One is for a person who wants a driveway for a motorhome; the policy and fire departments asked to remove a tree so they could install a new sign.
All in all, though, they “very few and far between,” said Mr. Collasius.
He said it is not accurate to say it will cause a “wholesale slaughter of trees,” a phrase Mr. Hayward did not use in the 3/6/23 letter.
SB Vice Chair Leon Correy said he would like to see Mr. Hayward and Mr. Collasius “get in a room together” to figure it out. He said “two grownups” should not be using the SB as a mediary, when they both want to protect trees.
The board asked Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison to facilitate a conversation between Mr. Hayward and Mr. Collasius.
The board tabled the item, leaving the policy in place.
The policy is available on the town’s website under Select Board packets for 3/6/23. Mr. Hayward’s letter is available on our website: www.neighbnews.com under archives, 03-16-23/Hoppys.
The board also discussed employee health insurance rates with Jill Gallant-Shaw of Cooke & Co., who explained that the town is self-funded and uses BCBS to administer the program. Town employee premiums have to cover the cost of claims.
Ms. Gallant-Shaw said the claims are projected to be $6.2 million. A 7% increase in premiums would cover that cost, or the town could raise rates 4% and use money from the health trust fund to pay out claims.
She noted that they are “just projections.”
At the 4%, the deficit would be $170,000.
“You’re trust fund balance is pretty healthy,” said Ms. Gallant-Shaw, with more than $2 million.
Mr. Espindola asked about past years and how close the town has gotten to projecting costs, vs. actual costs.
Each year is different, said Ms. Gallant-Shaw. Some years the increase is high, sometimes low. It depends on the needs of the employees.
“That’s what happens when you’re self-funded,” she said. “You just never know what your claims will be.”
The board voted to approve the 4% rate increase.
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