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Article updated: 2/14/2012 5:28 AM

Arlington Hts. panel wants to spend $11.5M to fight ash borer

Village board expected to back plan Monday

By Madhu Krishnamurthy

Arlington Heights would need to borrow roughly $11.5 million to combat the emerald ash borer infestation -- expected to peak in 2015 killing roughly 5,000 trees, village officials said Monday.

The village board's committee of the whole Monday night gave its blessing to a funding plan that would involve issuing roughly $11.5 million in general obligation bonds in 2013 for the removal and replacement of the village's 13,000 ash trees.

The proposed bond would cost the village about $960,000 in yearly debt service payments. However, the village's overall debt service is scheduled to drop by about $1.5 million yearly as of the 2014 levy year, Village Manager Bill Dixon said.

Village staff also recommended transferring a $2 million surplus from the general fund into a special emerald ash borer fund later this month, to be paid back once bonds are issued. That would allow the village's forestry division to get started on ordering replacement trees for ash trees removed before the spring planting season, Dixon said.

The committee agreed to that, and to hiring a full-time forestry employee by March specifically to manage the ash borer removal program over the next several years.

Trustee Norman Breyer questioned whether the village could be criticized for taking out a long-term loan to pay for what essentially would be an operating cost of removing diseased trees.

"This is in fact a capital asset of the village," Finance Director Tom Kuehne said. "It's on all of our parkways ... it's multimillion dollars worth of live asset."

Breyer said he would like to see the village offer a modest monetary incentive to residents who want to save some trees by treating them.

"Saving our trees helps with the resale of our homes," Breyer said. "The trees in the neighborhoods ... this is what differentiates us. This is a worthwhile expenditure."

Right now, residents are on their own if they want to pay to treat trees on their property or parkways that are infested with emerald ash borer.

Officials said a majority of residents who know about the emerald ash borer infestation threat are open to the village replacing the trees as quickly as possible. However, there are still many residents unaware of the problem.

Officials said they are trying to raise awareness are working with homeowners' associations interested in pursuing treatment options.

Laura Taylor, president of the Northgate homeowner's association, said 130 residents in her subdivision are interested in participating in a tree treatment program.

"We'd like to be able to try the preventive," she said asking the trustees for support and financial assistance. "If we can just save a few, that's all we're asking for, and some incentive."

Trustee Carol Blackwood said she favors treating mature ash trees over replacing them with younger, smaller saplings, though she questioned the wisdom of treating trees more than 40 years old.

Trustee John Scaletta said he would like staff members to explore some kind of cost-sharing program with residents for tree removal and replacement.

The entire community will collectively pay the cost of removing all the ash trees, if bonds are issued, officials said.

"It's obviously going to be property taxes one way or the other," Scaletta said.

Public Works Director Scott Shirley said it will be a challenge for village staff to keep track of which trees have been treated.

"It's going to be a big thing to manage," Shirley said. "It is going to be very time consuming. It's inevitable as we move forward with this thing that it's not going to be perfect."

The full village board is expected to approve the emerald ash borer funding plan next Monday.

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