Madison considers special fees to cover ash borer costs

Group created to urges council to move forward with fee to fund the Forestry Division
Madison considers special fees to cover ash borer costs

Ramona Armbrecht spends the bulk of her days watching baby Gabrielle.  From his family’s front porch a short drive from Warner Park on Madison’s east side, she remembered a week of watching the trucks with the toddler.

“There was times when I was going, oh please, not while the baby’s sleeping.  Please!  Let’s just let up a little bit,” Armbrecht described.

Now, the yard is left with two dirt patches where trees used to be.  The city removed them due to Emerald Ash Borer concerns.

“Who to pay for it?” Armbrecht asked.  “I don’t think the whole city of Madison’s going to pay for some trees that were taken down on the east side.”

That’s exactly what one council-appointed group is suggesting.

Madison alders created the Alternative Revenue Work Group and asked them to look at ways to make up for the millions not budgeted for past and future Emerald Ash Borer problems.

According to information presented to council Tuesday night, the group estimates the Forestry Division will need $5.9 million in tax levy support by next year in order to cover the costs of tree treatment, removal, and replacement.  That’s up more than $2 million from the tax money used in 2013 to fund the department.

To come up with that amount, the group charged council to move forward with a special fee to fund the Forestry Division’s efforts, presenting five ideas of how to charge Madison residents.

One option is to charge neighbors for the size of their property, specifically basing the fee on the property line touching the street.  The suggestion would mean taxpayers would pay $43.89 for 60 feet of street-adjacent property line.

Another option makes money off of the root of the problem: the trees.  The city could charge homeowners and property owners $61.43 for each city-planted tree on their land.  That includes the 96,074 trees close to the street.

A third option is to charge residents $24.65 for every person living under their roof. 

The city could also charge per parcel, no matter how big or small the piece of land may be.  That would be a flat fee of $79.97 for each property.

Finally, the group broke down the cost of an additional $89.42 on your utility bill to cover what the city needs to fight the emerald ash borer.

“I don’t think anybody in the city of Madison is going to be excited about any of those,” Armbrecht said.

Madison Alder Anita Weier, whose district saw a number of tree removals, said while it was necessary to deal with the Emerald Ash Borer, the timing was not optimal and the expenses were higher than expected.

We knew it was in the state and we knew it was coming.  But we knew it would be costly, and we were hoping it wouldn’t hit quite as soon. 

Weier pointed out state limits on tax levies prevent council from raising taxes enough to cover the cost that way.

“And I don’t like that kind of thing that’s hidden.  I’d rather have something out front that says, this is what it’s for,” Weier added.

Council is considering all options now, including but not limited to what the Alternative Revenue Work Group presented.