Abby grapples with trees in public right-of-way
The question of what to do about trees in the boulevards and other public rightof- ways has again been raised in Abbotsford, as the city’s public works manager seeks guidance on how to handle branches and roots that become obstructions.
DPW Craig Stuttgen got the issue onto the city council’s Oct. 21 agenda, about a year after he asked council members about preventing residents from planting trees within the city’s right-of-way so they don’t have to be removed later.
Stuttgen showed council members several pictures of trees with branches hanging into the street or, in a few cases, causing sections of sidewalk to heave. He also pointed out a city ordinance that requires residents to remove trees, shrubs and other vegetation that cause obstructions or interferences.
Abbotsford’s public works crew regularly trims tree branches that get in the way of snowplowing, though this sometimes generates complaints from property owners.
Mayor Lori Voss said she recently got a lot of phone calls from residents complaining about the city crew trimming trees in front of their houses.
“They want the city to pay for their trees because they say they look terrible,” she said. As homeowner, Voss said she would like the option of getting the trees trimmed herself first.
Under state law, Stuttgen said a tree or shrub can be trimmed by a neighboring property owner, including the city itself, if it is hanging over the property line.
“We can trim any tree in our right-ofway, if they’re coming out into the road,” he said.
Ald. Mason Rachu said he has no problem with the public works crew continuing this practice, and he doesn’t think the city should feel obligated to contact every homeowner ahead of time.
“If you’re going to go that person’s house and talk to them about it, you’re opening up a whole can of worms,” he said.
Other council members seemed to agree with Rachu’s position, but there were some concerns regarding trees with roots that are causing sections of sidewalk to heave or that threatening water and water sewer lines.
Ald. Brent Faber pointed out a couple sections of sidewalk (above) that have been pitched upward by tree roots, and wondered who would be responsible if someone tripped and hurt themselves.
“That tree needs to come down,” said Ald. Jim Weix.
According to a city ordinance, the cost of removing a tree like this should be levied against the adjacent property owner as a special tax assessment.
Council members, however, said it be unfair to special assess a property owner who had nothing to do with a tree being planted in the public right-of-way decades ago.
“I would feel bad if we made the homeowner pay for that,” Rachu said.
An ad-hoc committee of council members and city employees is currently reviewing the city’s ordinance book, so Rachu suggested the committee tackle the tree issue at its next meeting.
No action was taken by the council.
The full council got its first look at the city’s proposed 2021 budget last Wednesday after an ad-hoc committee tweaked a few line items at a pair of meetings earlier this month.
As currently proposed, the 2021 budget includes about $2.1 million in revenues and expenditures, with a property tax levy of $918,864 — an increase of $13,580 (1.5 percent) over this year.
A few factors still need to be settled, such as health insurance costs for next year. City administrator Dan Grady said he recently got a quote from the same insurance co-op the Colby-Abbotsford Police Department just joined. The co-op’s premiums would be about $37 per month cheaper than the city’s current plan, but Grady said he would still like to get other offers before the council chooses a plan.
In order to give themselves more time to settle these details, council members decided to table a motion to publish the budget until their meeting on Nov. 2.
This means the proposed budget would be published in the newspaper on Nov. 4, and the required public hearing would be on Nov. 19.
_ After meeting in closed session, the council approved raises for DPW Craig Stuttgen and utilities manager Josh Soyk, from $28.01 to $30 per hour, equaling annual salaries of $62,400. A raise of $2.50 per hour was also approved for administrative assistant Erin Clausnitzer.
_ The council approved a new oneyear contract with the Colby-Abbotsford police officers’ union, which includes 75-cent hourly raises and slightly higher health insurance deductibles.
_ The council approved $18,871 in monthly police department expenses.
_ The council approved the Abbotsford Public Library’s 2021 budget request of $90,355, a decrease of $1,976 from 2020.
_ Stuttgen said the contractors working on Hemlock Street are waiting for the next 50-degree day before they put the first lift of asphalt on the newly redone roadway. Ald. Frankie Soto expressed safety concerns about doing construction while school is in session.
_ Soyk told the council that the DNR is requiring the city to test the nitrate levels in 14 out of its 26 wells to ensure the levels are not getting close to exceeding safe drinking levels. The limit is 10 mg/L, and 6.4 mg/L is the highest level detected recently, Soyk said.
_ The council reviewed and approved about $1.2 million in monthly bills.
_ The council approved a certified survey map of the city’s industrial park and a developer’s agreement with the owner of Abby Appliance, as recommended by the city’s planning commission.
_ The council approved a Class A liquor license for Applegreen Midwest, the corporate owners of the BP gas station (formerly Holiday) on Spruce Street.