Sorry to have been out of touch for a bit but we have been busy with trying to spend end of year funds removing dead and diseased trees as well as finish this year’s planting. Any funds I had for that not spent by June 30 would have been lost. We have removed about 30 trees and planted 30. I would like to do better. I have been working very closely with the BPW with both them helping us, and our team them. Our department has gotten some praise in the last three months and some criticism as well. All expected, and most deserved.
The current funding for the entire Tree Department is a little over $70,000 dollars per year. The Department has myself the Tree warden, whose compensation is $7200 per year and two part time employees who can work up to 19 hours per week each at a current rate of $17.67 per hour with no other benefits. We have a very nice bucket truck purchased a little over a year ago and a wood chipper that can chip up to a 16” tree. Very impressive and cool to see.
The current expectations of the department and Warden do not equate to its funding and staffing levels. This is why we have not addressed some tree related issues you have requested. As well the expectations do not align with Massachusetts General Law in regards to the powers and duties of a Tree Warden.
The mandate of a Tree Warden according to Massachusetts General Law is “the care and control of all public shade trees”, with exception to those along state highways and in parks. There is more to it than that but that’s the big part.
Current expectations from the other town agencies and the public are that the Tree Department is responsible for any issue regarding a tree for a town of 12 square miles and 16000 residents. I get calls that include 24/7 365 emergency response to blocked roadways, branches in the road, broken curbs cracked sidewalks, roots in pipes, stained driveways, and clogged pool filters to mention a few. It is expected the Tree Warden is the first responder to a tree blocked roadway any time of day or night every day.
The Tree Department cannot come close to keeping up to demand in regards to current expectations. We fall further behind each week despite the 25 hours a week I have been putting into customer service, managing my team and trying to fix a broken system.
Every week we do not do preventive maintenance to the town’s tree canopy, which is our state mandate, we create more opportunities for tree failures and tree related safety issues.
This doesn’t seem logical to me and the only explanation I have gotten to date is that’s how it’s always been. I have worked at what many folks would consider dangerous jobs: Commercial fisherman, Submersible pilot, tall ship sailor. All have come with life insurance as well as health. The Tree Department has none. This seems like a big liability to the town should someone in my department get badly hurt or mortally injured. I am trying to get answers to this and failing.
As a publicly elected official and taxpayer I can’t let this current system stand. The financial risk to myself, my employees who are both young parents, and the town are too great. I have been talking to numerous public officials about this. Some want it better and understand the problems, others choose to ignore requests for information and help.
During town meeting I opposed the Tree Warden position of becoming an appointed, rather than elected one. That is because it was not articulated as to how that would fix anything. If there were logical solid reasons this were to fix things, it should have been presented to the town meeting and the current sitting Warden for their support, which would have most likely swayed the vote in favor.
I believe the Tree Department needs to be merged with the BPW. They are responsible for maintaining and keeping clear our town’s roadways. The BPW also has a park department and if you have looked into the canopy of our parks you will see a dire lack of maintenance. The BPW already has an insured 24/7 on call staff who deal with road emergencies.
I made a campaign promise of fixing a broken system. I had hoped to do this by means of hard work, logic and cooperation. I had hoped to prevent change driven by crisis. Things are going to get messy for a bit. But as it’s said sometimes it’s got to get worse before it gets better.
We live in a great town. Let’s make it greater.
Don Carlos Collasius, Fairhaven Tree Warden
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