November 17, 2011 at 8:22 a.m.

Residents attend city council meeting questioning Chisago City's policy on tree trimming

Residents attend city council meeting questioning Chisago City's policy on tree trimming
Residents attend city council meeting questioning Chisago City's policy on tree trimming

Property owners may have trees in front of their home on right-of-way maintained by the city.

Susan and Jim Houle, of Chisago City, told their City Council Nov. 8 that they felt singled out in learning that lesson the previous week.

Susan told the council she was shocked Nov. 2 to find city workers "butchering" a pair of 25-foot evergreen trees at the front the couple's property, on Park Place off of Old Towne Road. She noted that before she questioned and stopped them, the workers had removed branches from both trees down to the trunks. She estimated that they stripped the trees 11 feet up from the ground on the sides facing the street. She acknowledged that the branches had been extending 6 to 8 inches over the curb.

The city trimmed the trees in front of the Houle home as part of an ongoing effort to keep branches from hanging over into streets throughout the city. The Houle home fit into a quadrant that includes properties south of Highway 8 and east of Old Towne Road/Lofton Avenue/County Road 24. Where the city focused its trimming for 2011, Public Works Director Ken Novack told the County Press.

The city last year began this program that it plans to continue on a regular cycle. Novack said that the city trimmed trees mostly south of Hwy. 8 but west of Old Towne Road/Lofton Ave. in 2010, and that it will trim trees north of Hwy. 8 and west of Lofton in 2012.

Part of the Houle household's issue, Susan said, was that they received no prior notice. She asked why the workers couldn't start their project with the mere intent to trim only the branches that were hanging over the street. Novack explained that it is recommended evergreens should be cut to the trunk when trimmed, while his department might prune deciduous trees branch by branch. Houle asked Novack what he might do with trees on his own property. He replied that with evergreens, he would trim them to the trunk five feet up from the ground all around the tree.

Mayor Bob Gustafson noted that the city would be liable for any damage caused to private trucks or other vehicles by those trees, and would have the right to remove them completely.

He said he was proud that the city had hired a new maintenance supervisor who was making tree trimming a priority.

Susan Houle was not pleased with any response the council or staff could give. "We feel like we have been violated, like we have been robbed of our privacy," she said. "I feel we should be compensated."

The mayor replied: "I don't know how the city could justify compensating for the city's trees. ... You've benefitted from those trees, but they're our trees."

Delinquent utility bills

The council voted to certify delinquent utility bills to 2012 property taxes. Finance Director Gail Wilson presented a list of 130 utility customer addresses (including business and residential parcels) that either had outstanding bills of at least $300 or from whom no payment had been received in 2011. (Wilson said final notices would be sent to those customers Nov. 9, and they were going to have until Nov. 15 to make good on their utility debts and avoid having the amounts added to their tax statements along with a 10-percent penalty and $15 administrative fee.)

The list of customers represented about 10 percent of the city's total billing accounts. Twelve of the 130 were listed with delinquent amounts of more than $1,000. Each of those 12, except for one, owed amounts less than $1,600.

An address of 11490 Lake Lane, identified as ValUStay Inn & Suites, formerly America's Best Value Inn, was listed with a delinquent amount due of more than $5,800.

All totaled $83,761, plus added penalties of $8,376 and administrative fees of $1,950 for a total $94,087 to be certified (not accounting for any payments received Nov. 9-15).

The council renewed the Fire Department Relief Association's right to continue management of pull-tab sales and other gaming operations at the Scooter's, Smitty's and Chisago Roadhouse Tavern.

Much of the department's gaming profits pay for new trucks, other equipment and repairs as needed, costs that would otherwise require special tax levies. The department recently gave $2,000 to the Family Pathways food shelves and donates to local Scout groups and annual high school scholarships, among other causes.


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