Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Ginkgo and the Money Tree - UPDATED

[NOTE: I had to correct something that was wrong in this piece. See the note at the end.]

This spring, I'm getting a new male ginkgo tree in my front yard. And it's free!

Well, it's not really free. And therein lies a tale.

I'm getting a new ginkgo tree because local ordinances in New Brighton specify that single family residences must have a city-owned, city-provided boulevard tree. The boulevard tree on my property, likely planted when my house was built in the 1960s, was a green ash tree. The key word there is "was," because it's gone now. The city identified it as a weak tree at risk for the emerald ash borer (EAB) and, in an effort to keep other ash trees in the city from suffering the ravages of the EAB, the city cut my tree down last fall, along with 68 others in the city. The city will ultimately remove hundreds more trees and replace them.

Because the city decided to take this action, and because it requires that boulevard tree, the city decided to provide replacement trees for those whose trees were removed. Mrs. D and I have selected a male ginkgo, which is known for being exceptionally hardy and resistant to the rigors of disease and the hurly-burly of suburban life. It's believed that gingko trees in Hiroshima survived the atomic blasts of 1945. At some point in the spring, the city will come back to my property and plant the new tree. Male ginkgos are quite lovely and I'm sure we'll enjoy the new tree quite a lot.

I said it was free. It's not, of course. As the city mentions on its website, it has committed a lot of resources to this project. It has also lined up preferred contractors to handle treatment of additional ash trees that residents have on their property, provided guidelines for what should happen and how trees must be treated, along with requirements for removal if necessary.

The city took these actions because it felt it had no choice. As it happens, Ramsey County is now under a quarantine because EAB has been discovered in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, an area south of the state fairgrounds and less than 5 miles from where I live. The standard view on EAB is that it is a grave a threat to ash trees as Dutch Elm disease was to the elm trees that were decimated throughout the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. In a number of cases, fallen elms were replaced by ash trees, strangely enough. And there are thousands of ash trees in New Brighton.

I'm of two minds about this. The expense involved in this project is pretty substantial for a small city like New Brighton, which has plenty of other problems to deal with. The city claims ownership of boulevard trees and therefore it does not require its citizens to pay for the cost of the tree. That seems equitable, although one could question whether or not the city should require boulevard trees. The city could easily have required residents to pay for the cost of the trees and even a portion of the removal costs, too, just as the city would assess us if they rebuilt our street. I don't know what the city paid to remove my old ash tree, but it was likely four figures. I'm glad they didn't ask me to pay these costs, but should my neighbors be subsidizing my new tree? While I have no doubt that the new tree will help me personally, will having a ginkgo tree on my boulevard improve the city enough to justify the expense?

These are the sorts of granular questions that cities, and citizens, must deal with. We are in the midst of a great debate now concerning what governments do and how they spend the money they collect. One of the larger questions hovering over the state now is the fate of Local Government Assistance (LGA), which has been a financial lifeline for some communities and a source of discretionary income for others. New Brighton was supposed to collect $65,619 in LGA monies last year, which is about what it likely spent on the first phase of this EAB project. As it turned out, New Brighton didn't get any money, as the link demonstrates. Minneapolis collected a lot more.

Mark Dayton wants to keep LGA pretty much intact, which might help New Brighton buy some more ginkgo trees for my neighbors next year, although not necessarily, since New Brighton hasn't received LGA in some years. Whether or not we can afford the LGA money tree is just one of many questions we need to answer in the coming months.

[NOTE: In the original version of this post, I asserted that New Brighton had collected $65,619. Upon rereading the chart, I realized that the LGA monies that New Brighton was slated to get did not, in fact, come to the city at all. In some respects, that result makes the story even more interesting as an example of how monies that are collected statewide end up being allocated elsewhere. Minneapolis was slated to get over $90 million, but ended up getting $63 million.]


Night Writer said...

I wonder if the City couldn't get an insurance rider for tree replacement instead of, in effect, self-insuring. I bet an enterprising underwriter out there could look at the occurences by zip code, city, state, etc., calculate exposure and offer a product that caps the City's risk at a set amount, all for an area-rated premium that still costs significantly less than what the city is paying now. True, the City would pay the premium even in years where it doesn't have a loss - just as you do with your home and autos - but it makes expenditures and exposures predictable.

Mr. D said...

That's a very good idea, NW, especially since it's quite likely that there will be some other tree-destroying menace coming down the pike.

Night Writer said...

Of course, it would mean - gasp - turning to the private sector for a solution, which might cause some government bureaucrat to think, "If we do that, soon people are going to start wondering what they're paying me for."

Also, since it's the government involved, I'm surprised they allowed you to discriminate by selecting a male gingko, and didn't require you to take a female as well, or perhaps a trans-gender.

Btw, the image of the tree you provided does look very nice, but I keep hearing this stentorian voice in my head saying, "The Larch. The Larch."