Contingency fund more than half gone with unexpected expense to fight Emerald Ash Borer
By Brandi Makuski
City leaders on Monday are expected to give a final stamp of approval for spending almost $21,000 to combat Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) — a decision unanimously approved at last week’s finance committee.
Last July, the committee was presented with several options for treating trees afflicted with the beetle, which in essence kills ash trees from the inside out. The plan approved last year would cost $20,880 to treat 551 ash trees and remove 302 ash trees located in city right-of-ways.
The cost will also cover the removal of 325 ash trees located in city parks.
According to Parks Director Tom Schrader, no costs related to treatment were built into the 2016 budget because no one was expecting EAB to hit Portage County so soon.
“What [the finance committee] did approve was $400,000; and they set that aside for tree removal and replacement,” Schrader said. “But they never approved any money for treatment because Corey [Ladick, comptroller/treasurer] felt it was more of an operational expense, not a capital expense.”
“We just didn’t expect it to arrive this soon,” Ladick said on Monday, adding his office relied on information provided by the parks department before making budget recommendations to the finance committee, and later, to the full city council.
“Basically, since it’s unexpected, this (expense) will have to come from contingency,” Ladick said.
The city budgets about $100,000 annually for its contingency fund, Ladick said, which is used for unexpected and emergency expenses not budgeted for during the fiscal year — a fact that went undiscussed during Monday’s finance committee meeting.
“With this additional $20,880, we’d be sitting at about $71,000 of expenditures from our contingency [fund],” Ladick said. “We will have spent more than half of it, and the year isn’t half over yet; it’s definitely something we’ll have to keep an eye on.”
Ladick said a large chunk of contingency was spent in March when the city council approved a $50,000 expenditure for hiring a consultant to assist in completing the city’s comprehensive plan. Expenses for a new pilot program to fund tree-planting on privately-owned land has also been earmarked from the contingency fund in recent months.
Treatment for EAB, according to Schrader, is already underway. He said city employees have already treated or removed smaller trees in the downtown area, but added, “We just don’t have the staff to [treat] the number of trees that’s going to be required.”
“We’ll probably bid it out, but [the expense] is the same number we’ve received from two different people, so what we’ve proposed is in the ballpark of what it’ll cost,” Schrader said.
Schrader also said the $400,000 earmarked for tree removal and replacement can be utilized over “the next four or five years”.
“We can use that for removing and replacing trees, but that doesn’t include treatment costs,” he said, adding medication is injected either directly into the tree, or into the roots, depending on the tree’s size.
The city has marked 302 ash trees located in city right-of-ways for removal because of their small size, condition and location. Those trees can be treated by a private land owner at their own expense.
“We will establish a program that the resident can follow through our department,” the finance committee agenda read in part.
The measure still needs full council approval. The Stevens Point City Council meets at 7 PM on Monday, May 16 at the courthouse.