Trees for taxes? New law would pay for conservation

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church-treeMoney doesn’t grow on trees, but the next best thing might be taking root in Warren. 

It’s taken more than a year of work, but a new tree ordinance is set to get its final review at next Tuesday’s Warren Town Council meeting. If it passes, owners of large trees who pledge to preserve them could be in for tax breaks.

At times praised by conservationists and criticized by others, the proposed law not only spells out specific rules for how the town, utilities and private property owners can deal with trees, but also tries to encourage preservation of large trees by offering incentives — mainly tax breaks for owners who pledge never to cut them down.

The proposed tree ordinance came one step closer to law last month, when the Warren Town Council voted 3-2 to send it to a second reading and public hearing this coming Tuesday, Oct. 8. Councilors Scott Lial, David Frerichs and Joseph DePasquale voted for the ordinance; council president Chris Stanley and councilor Cathie Tattrie voted against it.

The incentive program would work like this: Owners of large trees (28″ girth at four feet off the ground) can apply to the tree commission to designate their tree as “protected.” Once the tree is accepted, the owner will be given a property tax exemption of $5,000 annually for the life of the tree; given today’s rate, that’s a savings of about $96 per year.

If the tree is ever cut down without town approval, the owner would be responsible for paying back all exempted taxes given over since the designation.

Opponents of the bill the program argued at last month’s council meeting that giving out tax exemptions could cost the town upwards of $75,000 per year; money the town can scarcely afford to give up during tough budgetary times.

But Mr. DePasquale said he believes the amount will actually be much less; either way, he said, he believes it’s good policy for Warren.

“The (financial) argument could be made, but I look at it as a good economic stimulator,” he said. “One good stimulator is an attractive town, and this helps that. It’s an investment in the future.”

Tuesday’s hearing will be held in Warren Town Council chambers on the second floor of town hall.

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