FORT WAYNE – City taxpayers will not have to pay a tree tax next year.
The Fort Wayne Board of Parks Commissioners rejected an idea Tuesday that would have assessed a special levy on each property tax bill in the city to pay for the damage caused by the emerald ash borer. State law gives authority to parks boards to levy a special assessment – much like a drainage assessment – on properties within their district to pay for street trees.
The special tax – up to $10 per parcel – would have paid for cutting down and replacing thousands of ash trees killed by the invasive insect.
The board floated the idea a month ago but wanted input from the public and the City Council. City Council members slammed the idea but have no authority to stop it.
“It got somewhat of a lukewarm reception,” Parks Director Al Moll said. He recommended tabling the idea until next year.
“I think we can do a more structured approach, maybe get more buy-in,” Moll said. “I don’t think the $10 fee was the big deal, it was the ‘Have you explored every idea?’ issue.”
Board President Richard Samek said the staff should come back to the board by June 1 with a full financial assessment of what the costs would be and where the money might come from.
The parks department is in the process of removing 4,500 dead and dying ash trees, killed by the emerald ash borer. The $1.1 million cost of that removal is being paid for by income taxes the state owed the city and paid in a lump sum.
But there are an additional 3,000 ash trees that will need to be removed as well, and those are only street trees. They do not include the thousands of ash trees in city parks. It also does not include the cost of replacing the trees. Officials estimate about 10,000 trees will need to be replaced over the next five to 10 years.
Garry Morr, parks associate director of administration, said the issue will be visibly demonstrated next summer when 4,500 street trees are cut down. “There will be some streets that literally have no trees,” Morr said. “There will be a shock factor.”
Moll has said replacing the trees is not as big an issue, because people are willing to donate toward the cost. Meanwhile, the cost of removing thousands of dead and dying trees doesn’t have the same emotional pull, but does cause urgent safety and aesthetic issues.
Already, officials said, they have received about $200,000 in donations for tree replacements, including large grants from several local foundations. In addition, residents can either pay for replacement trees themselves or apply for matching money, where citizens pay $75 toward the $130 to $150 cost of a new tree.