BELGRADE — The Board of Selectpersons has decided not reappoint the town’s tree warden, following the unauthorized cutting of a hazardous tree on private property last month.
Selectman also learned last month that the tree committee planted trees on private property along Main Street in Belgrade Village last year, using public money.
Town officials say they don’t think the mistakes were intentional, but they’ll be re-evaluating the tree committee and its purpose as a result.
Before the board reached the decision Tuesday night, Selectman Ernie Rice said he planned to request the resignation of the tree warden, Tish Carr.
“I just feel that the damage that has been done really falls on the shoulders of that person,” he said.
The board voted 4-1 to not reappoint Carr after an executive-session discussion. Selectwoman Melanie Jewell voted in opposition. The tree warden’s job is an unpaid position.
Town Manager Greg Gill said the board decided it was in the town’s best interest to remove Carr, who did not learn about her removal until a reporter contacted her Wednesday.
The tree committee requested permission to cut the hazardous tree on Location Road during the March 5 board meeting, but the board unanimously denied the request because it was on private land.
The property on Location Road was in the final stages of bank foreclosure, so the owner couldn’t be reached, Gill said. Gill said he planned to send a letter to the bank about a hazardous tree being on the property after the bank took ownership.
The board asked for legal advice from the Maine Municipal Association before the March 5 meeting and was informed that towns can’t spend money to remove trees on private property, Rice said.
Carr said Wednesday she didn’t order the tree to be cut. She said she asked another arborist to look at the condition of the tree, and he cut the tree himself without permission.
“If they want to fire me because I did what I had to do, then that’s fine. That’s up to them,” Carr said.
Carr had been the tree warden since 1999.
Gill said David Chavarie of Chavarie Tree & Landscaping cut down the tree and claimed responsibility for doing it without permission. Chavarie didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
Gill said he found out about the issue when Chavarie submitted a $400 bill for the work.
The town agreed to pay Chavarie $200 for the work of cutting down the portion of the tree that hung over the town’s right of way, Gill said.
“Nothing was done with any, I think, ill at heart,” Gill said. “Everything was done to better the situation.”
The Board of Selectpersons learned that the tree committee had planted trees last year on private property during discussion with the committee’s members at the board’s March 20 meeting.
The trees were planted in the spring of 2012 in anticipation of work on the downtown section of Route 27 by the Maine Department of Transportation, which could lead to older trees being taken down.
The importance of maintaining the tree canopy’s shade on Main Street was outlined in the town’s streetscape plan, finalized in 2011.
Gill said when the selectmen received the $800 bill from the tree committee for the work, they assumed it was for tree work being done in public parks and the Belgrade Community Center for All Seasons that occurred around the same time.
“The select board just figured it was part of the work being done on public property, so that’s how it sort of slipped by,” Gill said.
The bill for the work was paid for from the committee’s $2,000 budget.
“They really shouldn’t have a budget,” Rice said. “No other committees do.”
Rich Baker, tree committee chairman, said at the meeting that the committee members didn’t realize they couldn’t plant trees on private property, and he assured the board that the committee wouldn’t do it again.
The Kennebec Journal published a story about the trees being planted last year and gave Baker’s phone number for landowners to call if they wanted trees planted on their property, too.
Rice said he thinks the mistakes involving trees on private property occurred because the committee has moved beyond its directive of just making recommendations.
“Rather than being advisory, they’re taking action on things, which is outside their scope in the ordinance,” he said.
Gill said the Board of Selectpersons will re-evaluate the tree committee’s role and will outline who is in charge of trees in different locations to avoid future confusion.
Paul Koenig — 621-5663