Citing an acceleration in the infestations and degradation of village ash trees by the emerald ash borer, the Hoffman Estates public works department asked the village board Monday for an additional $1.5 million this year to pay for more ash tree removals and replacements as soon as possible.
Director of Public Works Joe Nebel said last summer's drought has made conditions worse than imagined. Requests to remove ash trees come in daily, he said, and the department can only get around to about 10 a day while continuing to handle non-emerald ash borer issues.
More than 300 ash trees were removed and replaced in 2012, and so far this year more than 450 trees have been removed, Nebel said.
The department's plan is to utilize any fund balance in the village's general fund over the next five to six years to address the infestation of about 6,000 trees. The village already set aside $250,000 in this year's budget for tree removal and replacement, and the intent was to continue setting aside $500,000 a year for a total of about $3 million.
Now the department is hoping to use $1.5 million right away to put out a bid for at least two additional removal contractors and two replacement contractors.
"There's going to be a scramble here in the next five years for nursery stock and for contractors," Nebel said. "Our hope is, if we get locked in with some contracts now, that we're able to keep contractors in town and be ahead of it."
The department believes using more money now to get multiple contractors working on the problem will allow them to have 2,000 ash trees removed in 2014 and replaced within a year.
"If we have only $500,000 a year, most of that would be used up for removals and then, doing the math, the replacements backlog really quickly after that," he said. "People are waiting two, sometimes three years, before they get a parkway tree replaced. We're trying to avoid that. We want to keep it to a year maximum, if possible."
The department also is asking the board to approve a change in the way residents are contacted and notified before tree removal. Nebel said the current method, which requires staff to make multiple attempts to contact residents to explain the process and answer questions, is slowing things down.
The department wants to streamline the process by limiting contact to one phone attempt or in-person visit and one letter.
"I think that's a much more efficient way of doing it," said Mayor William McLeod.
The public works department is carefully selecting replacement trees so there is not more than 10 percent of one species of tree in the village, Nebel said.
To successfully implement the program expansion, public works is asking for three additional temporary staff members. They include two people working in the field and providing oversight of the contractors and one person who would provide customer service, manage contracts and do other administrative work.
The board, which reviewed the proposed program acceleration while meeting Monday as the public works and utilities committee, will likely vote on the proposal next month.