Orange Park Council continues thorny issue of tree fees

By Wesley LeBlanc Staff Writer
Posted 1/22/20

ORANGE PARK – The town council is one step closer to implementing a fee for tree removals.

The Orange Park Town Council has been wrestling with a tree fee for some time, but the council moved …

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Orange Park Council continues thorny issue of tree fees

Posted

ORANGE PARK – The town council is one step closer to implementing a fee for tree removals.

The Orange Park Town Council has been wrestling with a tree fee for some time, but the council moved closer to implementing a of fee following a 3-2 vote to direct town staff to create an ordinance. This ordinance will be written up by staff and brought back to the council for a first reading.

“They voted for us to bring them an ordinance for first reading that says someone who wishes to take down a Live Oak will have to pay $165 an inch,” Town Manager Sarah Campbell said. “The fee would be $148 for any other trees in this ordinance.”

Campbell said a diameter-from-breast-height measurement will determine how many inches someone would have to pay to cover the fee. That’s the diameter of the tree measured from a person’s breast height. If the measurement is 20 inches, the fee would be $3,300, for example.

Council members Alan Watt cast one of the two no votes. He said the fee was too high and that it would discourage business in the town. Watt said businesses who want to clear land in town to open shop would be discouraged to do so with such high tree fee prices.

Mayor Connie Thomas voted yes and said trees are just as much a part of the town’s economic development as business.

“Part of our economic development is the trees,” Thomas said. “People move here because of the trees.”

The tree fee ordinance will have its first reading at a future meeting. If the ordinance is passed through that first reading, a second reading and public hearing will occur. The ordinance must be passed at that reading to be implemented.

In other business, the town is pursuing a Community Development Block Grant that would give Orange Park a share of $633 million to be used to mitigate the likelihood of disaster in disaster-prone areas. This includes areas in Florida that often experience things like hurricanes and floods.

This grant pursuit comes after Florida received $633 million from the federal government, which is an amount the town’s grant writer said is unheard of in the world of grant funding. The money will be spread across dozens of counties in Florida designated as disaster-prone. Some of these counties are designated as such by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and others are designated as such by the state.

At least 50% of the $633 million must be spent on the HUD-designated areas, which are considered the most-impacted and distressed counties in the state. The remaining funds will be spent on the state-designated areas.

At least 50% of the funding received must be spent within the first six years of the grant and all of it must be spent within 12 years, so there are legs on the funding. The grant funding can even be used by the town to match other grants.

The grant will be used to reinforce structures in the town and address health and medical, energy, communications, hazardous material problems and more if it is approved for the town. The state action plan is due to HUD by Feb. 3.

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