Swanton Village Council Looks to Remove “Excessive” Penalty from Tree Ordinance

In 2009, the Swanton Village Council approved an ordinance establishing a Street Tree Commission.  Ordinance 2009-24 also established planting and maintenance guidelines, laws and penalties for all trees or shrubs within the Village limits on both private and public property.  Work has been done to update and clarify this ordinance to give residents a better understanding of what is expected from tree ownership.

“I have, along with Rosanna (Administrator Hoelzle) and the agreement of the Tree Commission, have drafted a new Tree Ordinance and a new Tree Commission,” said Mayor Neil Toeppe.  “Currently, the Tree Ordinance and the Tree Commission are inextricably intertwined.  My objective is to separate the Ordinance (law) from the Tree Commission (advisory group).  I plan to present this to council in the near future.”

At their March 14th meeting, Council members also discussed dangerous trees on private property that had been determined by the Tree Commission to be removed or trimmed in the interest of public safety.  In cases where property owners do not comply, the Ordinance gives the Village the legal right to remove the tree(s) and bill the owner.  It also allows the Village to impose a fine equal to the cost of the tree removal.

Under Section Six: PRIVATELY OWNED TREES, Paragraph Three, the Ordinance reads, in part: Should the property owner or occupant fail to comply, it shall be lawful for the Village Administrator or his agent to enter upon the property and cause such action.  The property owner or occupant shall be charged double the cost of the work and cash payment shall be made within thirty days or double the actual cost of the work shall be assessed to their property taxes.

 A situation recently occurred where the Village contracted to have a dangerous tree on private property removed at the cost of $2,500.  Subsequently, the property owner was sent an invoice of $5,000.  In previous Council meetings, the fine was referred to as “excessive” and even “punitive”.

In determining what may be a fair and reasonable fine, Councilwoman Diane Westhoven recommended assessing a fine of five to ten percent of the work cost to cover administrative expenses incurred when managing the issue.  After more discussion, Council voted to levy a 10 percent fine which will be spelled out in the new ordinance.

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