Port Works Board agrees to reduce crews’ time at homes, charge residents when services take longer than 14 minutes
Anticipating that there will be “an explosion” of dead ash trees due to the emerald ash borer in the coming years, the Port Washington Board of Public Works on Tuesday decided to reduce the time it will spend chipping wood at homes before residents are charged.
Beginning next year, the city will chip wood outside homes for as long as 14 minutes with no charge, the board agreed. After that, residents will be charged $1.83 a minute, with a minimum of five minutes ($9.16), plus a $10 administrative fee.
Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven recommended the change, saying he wants to discourage people from hiring a contractor to take down their dead trees and then placing the wood at the curb for the city to handle.
“I can see that overwhelming our staff next year,” he said. “We’re not trying to make money on this, but to encourage homeowners to have their contractors take care of the chipping.”
Too often, Vanden Noven said, “contractors will tell the homeowner it’ll be $1,200 to take down your tree but only $1,000 if we don’t have to chip it.”
J.D. Hoile, who will become the city’s street commissioner later this month, told the board some contractors will cut the bill by half if they don’t have to chip the wood.
“We have to discourage them from saying, ‘Let’s have the city do it,’” Hoile said. “It’s going to be an issue. We can see it now.”
Board members were initially wary of the change, saying they did not want to penalize people who trim the trees at their home and need to get rid of the resulting brush.
“That’s a really nice service the city offers,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the board, said.
Street Commissioner Dave Ewig said that it won’t affect most people.
“Our crews can chip an awful lot of brush in 15 minutes,” he said.
City arborist Jon Crain agreed, saying, “It’s not going to affect the average person who trims their trees. You almost have to have a full tree removal (to incur a charge).”
Board member Jason Wittek questioned who times the crews when they chip. Ewig noted that the crews are good at estimating the time it will take when they arrive at a home, and if they suspect it will take a great deal of time they keep track.
Vanden Noven said the change will also help the city keep its expenses low. Currently, when the crew spends more than 20 minutes at a house, a staff member checks to see which workers are there and calculates the exact cost to the city.
The new policy charges a flat fee based on the average wage paid to the full-time street department crew and the summer help, he said.
The board also approved spending $56,431 to buy 617 trees to be planted by the street department next year. Of those, 417 will be planted in spring and 200 in fall.
“We’re planting more trees than ever,” Vanden Noven said. “With the emerald ash borer, we have quite a few more trees to replace.”
In addition, the city has taken on the task of planting trees in two subdivisions — the developers of each has paid the city for this service — and to replace trees along the streets when roads are rebuilt.
Crain told the board that the price of trees has increased significantly. The supply is limited, both because of the emerald ash borer and the fact that more people are building homes and landscaping, and that has driven up the price.
“It’s incredible the increase in price,” Ewig said, noting that about five years ago the city paid $50 for a Kentucky coffeetree. Today, the price is $100 or more.
Crain also noted that the city will be purchasing some trees grown in containers, something that hasn’t been done in the recent past. The price is comparable to other trees, he said, and they are easier to handle.