Opposition on source of funding doesn’t stop initial stamp of approval
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point Finance Committee on Monday approved using contingency funds to help pay for a new program which encourages tree planting on private property.
Mayor Mike Wiza announced the pilot program, which would help property owners pay the cost of planting a tree in their front yards within predetermined areas where the boulevard isn’t wide enough to sustain a fully-grown tree, in March.
Parks Director Tom Schrader said the program was Ald. Garrett Ryan’s idea.
“He’s got an area of the boulevard in his district that isn’t very wide and you can’t plant trees,” Schrader told the finance committee on Monday. “The idea was, could we plan trees on private property, and then fund some money back to those property owners.”
Schrader said the city would send letters to property owners along a two-block section of Main St. to solicit interest.
“We’ll give them a choice of four or five trees,” Schrader said, adding those interested in participating would receive up to $100 to purchase a tree from Jung’s. City Forester Todd Ernster would be available to guide interested property owners, Schrader said.
The 1500 and 1600 blocks of Main St. have been targeted for the pilot program, and if successful, Wiza said it would be expanded to other areas of the city. Sections of Division, Water and Second streets are all possible locations, he added.
Councilwoman Mary Kneebone said she supported the program, calling it “a good idea”, but also told the committee one of her constituents voiced objection to the use of contingency funds.
“[He] thought it was not a good idea to use contingency for this program,” Kneebone said.
Alderman Mike Phillips agreed, saying the use of contingency funds was not designed for a program like this.
“That [money] is for emergency situations,” Phillips said.
Wiza defended the decision to use contingency by saying the idea “popped up in the middle of the year” and therefore had not been built into the city budget.
“There may be things that come up unexpected, and that’s exactly what that contingency is for, those unexpected expenses,” Wiza said, adding he expected the total funding for the project to be “probably less” than $1,000.
“We’re only talking about two blocks,” he said, adding anyone who planted a tree under the program would still need to follow city guidelines pertaining to setbacks and tree care.
Despite Wiza’s estimate, Councilwoman Meleesa Johnson approved utilizing the contingency funds with a cap of $2,000. If the program continues it would have its own line item in the city’s annual budget.
Councilwoman Denise Mrozek said she “absolutely loved the idea” of the tree planting program but would not support using the city’s contingency fund.
“The definition of ‘contingency fund’ is, ‘reserves set aside for extraordinary expenses resulting in possible business interruption or disaster,'” Mrozek said. “So, based on that definition, I don’t feel that this meets it. If we can pull the money for some other place, I would definitely be in support of that.
Mike Phillips was the committee’s sole no vote based on the use of contingency funds. The final approval will come before the full city council at its 7 PM meeting on April 18.