Thorny Questions in Tree City USA CARROLL COUNTY

October 21, 1993

Who should be responsible for maintaining trees along Westminster's public thoroughfares -- the city or individual property owners? It's a question the city's Tree Commission must resolve because the City Council could not.

Even though Westminster points with pride to its designation as a "Tree City, USA" by the National Arbor Day Foundation for four years running, some residents have complained about the trees the city has planted along the sidewalks that front their properties. A few of Mayor W. Benjamin Brown's neighbors recently gave him an earful that no officials had consulted with them before planting saplings in front of their houses on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although the sidewalk trees are on city property, under the current code, property owners are responsible for clearing fallen tree limbs and preventing dead limbs or trees from becoming hazards to pedestrians. Every year, a few Westminster residents are notified by the city that they must have limbs of city trees removed at their expense.

The relationship of property owners to street trees is much like their relationship to the sidewalks in front of their houses, city officials say. Although the sidewalks are owned by the city, property owners are responsible for keeping them passable by removing snow or debris.

The city code does not address the question of who is responsible for the routine care of the trees, however. Watering, fertilizing and pruning the street trees has been rather haphazard. In most cases, Westminster's trees seem to have survived with minimal attention. But the recently planted young maples and ginkgos, which cost about $150 apiece, require some care if they are to survive.

Should this be the job of city crews? The trees, after all, are on city property and all Westminster residents reap the pleasures of having shady, tree-lined streets. If these street trees were neglected and dying, it would make sense for the city to assume responsibility.

Westminster's street trees, for the most part, are in surprisingly good health and there seems no reason at this point to tamper with a good system. The Tree Commission should endorse the current system -- property owners clear dead limbs, etc., while the city handles routine care -- and recommend that the council leave well enough alone.

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