“We’re going to stay with it,” Chuck Staton said. “We’re very disappointed for the town; I thought we had a good and reasonable ordinance.”
The Warren Town Council voted 3-2 last Tuesday against the new ordinance, after several members voiced concerns over its scope and the amount of money it could cost the town. Voting for the new ordinance were councilors Scott Lial and Joseph DePasquale; voting against were council president Chris Stanley and councilors Cathie Tattrie and David Frerichs.
Though council president Chris Stanley raised eyebrows by calling the ordinance a “power grab” by the tree commission, it was the deciding vote, cast by Mr. Frerichs, that generated the most controversy.
Mr. Frerichs voted last month to move the ordinance forward, siding with Mr. DePasquale and Mr. Lial at the time in a vote that made Tuesday’s public hearing possible. Many assumed he would re-affirm that stance Tuesday, but he did not.
After the meeting, Mr. Frerichs said he changed his mind after reading the proposed ordinance in depth over the past month.
“When I saw the final version, it really kind of started to scare me,” he said. “We’ve got 11 pages of rules and regulations here. The town is trying to simplify government, and this just makes it so much more complicated.”
Among other things, the ordinance would have clarified and defined the roles of the commission and the tree warden — that post is currently held by DPW Director John Massed — and would have also imposed voluntary guidelines for dealing with trees on private property.
One of the most radical departures in the new ordinance would have been a plan to give owners of so-called “significant” trees tax breaks if they pledged to preserve them. Opponents said the plan was not needed, as large trees are not being cut down en masse, and also worried about the costs — estimated at up to $75,000 or more per year in lost tax revenue — it would create. Mr. Frerichs said the financial impact worried him, too:
“Nobody even knows how many significant trees are out there,” he said. “That’s scary to me. And if you really care for a tree, you shouldn’t have to be compensated for you to keep that tree.”
Finally, he said, he believes Mr. Massed is over-burdened as it is, and the new responsibilities required of him in the ordinance would have been to much:
“John works to the max right now, and there is no way he would be able to do all this new work.”
Mr. Staton, though, said Mr. Frerichs’ concerns are not warranted, particularly with regard to the warden:
“That was one of the most puzzling thigns to come out,” he said. “We are trying to work with the tree warden as a team. We work at his direction; we are just trying to promote more coordination, trying to help everyone.”
Mr. Staton said the commission will start revisiting the ordinance over the next few months.