By Dale Martin
September 16, 2022
As the current fiscal year nears its conclusion (Sept. 30), City officials and staff prepare for the opportunities and challenges for the new fiscal year. The most critical component is completing the annual budget. The final public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 6:00 p.m. in the City Commission Chambers. Following the public hearing and any revisions to the proposed budget, the City Commission will vote to adopt the budget for the 2023 Fiscal Year.
Early in the fiscal year, the City Commission must consider its legislative priorities for the coming year. Legislative priorities are City Commission requests to the local delegation (State Senator and State Representative) for consideration in next year’s State budget (although requests are not necessarily limited to fiscal requests). The State’s fiscal year is July-June, slightly different than the City’s (and the County’s and the School Board’s) fiscal year. With the departure of Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Cord Byrd, the City looks forward to beginning new relationships with their successors (to be determined in November) as part of this legislative process. The Florida legislature does not convene next year until March, giving ample time for legislative priority consideration.
Despite beginning the discussion of possible legislative priorities, a critical request has been made informally by the City Commission: the repeal, or significant amendment, to Florida Statutes Section 163.045, Tree Pruning, Trimming, or Removal on Residential Property.
Section 163.045 was born from House Bill (HB) 1159. As has been related to me, HB 1159 was introduced after a member of the legislature was cited by his hometown government for improper/illegal tree removal on his property. In a successful effort to demonstrate that the hammer of State government was bigger than that of local government, HB 1159 was introduced and subsequently, as a Committee substitute, enacted by the State Legislature as Section 163.045, and was signed by the Governor on June 26, 2019 (and effective July 1, 2019)
The language of the statute reads, in part: “A local government may not require a notice, application, approval, permit, fee, or mitigation for the pruning, trimming, or removal of a tree on residential property if the property owner obtains documentation from an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture or a Florida licensed landscape architect that the tree presents a danger to persons or property.”
If a residential property owner wishes to remove a tree from his or her property, all that is needed is documentation from a certified arborist or landscape architect indicating that the tree presents a “danger” to persons or property. City staff cannot be required to be notified of such removal, be required to review the proposed removal, require a permit for such removal, or charge a fee for such removal.
The Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture recognized the significant role of certified arborists under Section 163.045. A position paper crafted by the Florida Chapter offered several comments in response to the new law, one of which stated, “The Florida Legislature including the house, senate, and governor, with support from the insurance and construction industries, now trust ISA Certified Arborists more than local government and any other Florida green industry group to help residents make the right decision with regard to their trees.”
The position paper advocates for enhanced education of its Certified Arborists, including, as part of a Member Awareness Campaign, a presentation entitled, “Just Because you Are Certified, Doesn’t Mean You are Qualified.” Perhaps a local tree removal company should consider reviewing that presentation.
The following correspondence was presented to the City following a property owner’s tree removal request: Arborist Report, July 27, 2022; Subject: Remove 1 beautiful, enormous live oak. [Property Owner] has shared space with this huge live oak for a couple of decades or more. There was maybe a time when she liked the tree, but that was so long ago that the memory has been forgotten. As far as the condition, this tree is in excellent health, and it has good integrity. Unfortunately, the tree is getting too big for its britches, and it’s all up in her personal space. The tree argues that it was here first. Even so, it has never paid one cent for the land, property taxes, electricity, water, sewer, cable tv, etc. It’s basically living here for free, eating up all the food, and making a big mess! What’s worse, it’s constantly pushing hard on the back right corner foundation of the house, and it’s only a couple inches from the roof. I hate to vote in favor of the house on such a beautiful tree, but something’s got to give. As many home owners have been doing this week, [Property Owner] has generously offered to give this tree to ANY homeowner who wants it right beside their house! It would need to be placed in a similar or closer spot to the recipient’s house. This is our best solution for saving this tree. [Property Owner] would also consider swapping property with a concerned citizen who wants it in their yard. The property would need to be of similar or greater value, and the location would need to meet or exceed her expectations. Please check out the photos below, and let me know if you need a more thorough explanation. Otherwise, I’m recommending removal due to the risk it presents to her house. Please contact me if you have any questions about this report, or contact our main office.
That report satisfies the language of Section 163.045.
A subsequent effort to repeal the law failed, and resulted only in minor modifications to the law, leaving the restrictions on local government to protect its urban forest.
The City Commissioners will likely enthusiastically request the local delegation to lead the effort to repeal Section 163.045.