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Friday, March 2, 2012

Money transferred again for tree removal

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday February 29, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff 
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — A budget transfer of $35,000 for tree removal led to more than a half hour of debate during Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting about the activities of the Public Works Department.

Public Works Director Henry McCully appeared before the Town Council for the third time this fiscal year asking for a transfer of money to pay for contracted tree services. McCully said Tropical Storm Irene and the late October snowstorm contributed to the increased need for money.

“These storms have led to increased activity removing trees,” he said. “We have trees that are damaged, or with hanging limbs. We have to go until July 1 of this year, and there’s no money left in the budget.”

McCully had transferred $25,000 to the account twice. McCully said the money was for the whole removal of dead and diseased trees that are considered hazardous. Public works employees use bucket trucks to trim trees and will remove smaller ones, but typically don’t remove larger ones.

“As practice we don’t take down large trees,” he said.

But Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, questioned whether the money was needed, and asked McCully to produce a list of the trees that he wanted to remove.

“I think there could be a different solution than having $35,000 come out of the account for materials and supplies,” he said. “To be responsible councilors, we should have a list of the trees.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said it isn’t practical to require McCully to produce a list to the council.

“I’m not sure that’s providing the service we want to provide to the public,” Dickinson said.

Economopoulos, who has been recently requesting documents about the activity of the Public Works Department, asked McCully about a tree that was removed from Marcus Cooke Memorial Park. Economopoulos said that the tree was healthy. He went on to accuse McCully’s staff of cutting healthy trees and selling the wood.

“You know what I’m implying, that they’re cutting good trees and using them for firewood,” Economopoulos said.

Economopoulos also accused Mc-Cully of removing a tree from a town employee’s private property.

“I’m implying that he’s a town worker, and you cut him a favor,” he said.

McCully denied the charges, and Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi said that council meeting aren’t the right venue to raise such accusations.

The $35,000 was taken from money originally budgeted for salt.

“We haven’t had to purchase a lot of salt,” McCully said. “I think we can get through March safely.”

The transfer was approved by a 8-1 vote with Economopoulos casting the lone dissenting vote.

McCully said that the tree-removal budget has ballooned in the last two fiscal years due to the large amount of snow in early 2011 and the two storms at the year’s end. He expected to ask for only $70,000 for the account going forward.

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