By Anna Lothson
The tree cleanup efforts after the brief, but powerful storm that swept through Oak Park late last month has some residents stumped.
The storm, which lasted less than 15 minutes, caused its share of damage as it tore trees from the ground, created a mess of branches and knocked out power. But it was the aftermath that caused a stir with some residents.
It's one problem, however, that the village says will persist because of budget constraints.
Public Works Director John Wielebnicki told the village board last week that after a storm hits, the village first clears the streets and then moves onto cleaning up fallen parkway trees. And while the village does offer brush debris removal services for residents, taking care of trees and limbs which have fallen on private property must be left to the expense of the homeowner.
The main reason for this, like most decisions in the village, is financial, Wielebnicki said. In fact, the recent storm already has Oak Park's emergency storm budget maxed out.
Oak Park's 2013 budget allocates $100,000 for emergency storm cleanup and $400,000 for tree removal. But that tree removal budget is typically taken up by tackling the emerald ash borer issue still prevalent in the area.
As of July 1, Oak Park had spent 70 percent of its emergency storm response budget and Wielebnicki anticipated the budget to be wiped out before the week ended.
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said the village has received a handful of inquiries from upset residents wondering why the village is sifting through which trees belong to the village and which trees belong to private residents. Unfortunately, she said, it's a policy the village must financially stick to right now.
"It is really tough," she said. "This is what we budget for — the trees we own."
Pavlicek said based on the type of tree, when it was placed on the parkway, and how dry the leaves are, the village forestry experts are able to determine who the tree belongs to. If a parkway tree and a resident-owned tree fall near each other, there's a good chance the village is picking up both. Still, policy dictates to only pick up village-owned parkway trees.
While the system isn't perfect, Pavlicek said it's all the village can tackle unless staff and the village board decide to amend the budget and change its emergency storm removal process. Because the village's budget hardly covered its own trees, extending the services to residents isn't currently feasible with the budget structure established.
Pavlicek said it doesn't mean the system won't ever change, but currently it's a policy the village must follow.