Moose Jaw City Council approved the hiring of two additional staff members for the city’s urban forestry crew during budget deliberations on Wednesday night. 

The additional staff comes with a price tag of $139,850 including wages, benefits, protective equipment, cell phone and training. The cost added a 0.4 per cent municipal tax increase. The vote passed 6-1 with Coun. Dawn Luhning opposed. 

The forestry crew currently only has two members to properly maintain city-owned trees and address tree-related service calls. 

“Being an old city, we have boulevards throughout the older parts of the city with tremendous urban forest, and it is in bad shape currently. I’ve been one of those people who has almost been a nagger to the city to try and do something about it,” said Mayor Clive Tolley. 

The city’s urban forest has about 15,000 trees with a value between $90 million to $100 million. 

The Parks and Recreation Department is currently undergoing an inventory of city-owned trees. There have been 6,661 trees logged in the inventory so far. There are 522 trees that have been marked as “poor health” and 2,128 marked as “fair health” that have a remaining lifespan of approximately 10 years. 

Director of Parks and Recreation Derek Blais noted that not properly taking care of city-owned trees can be a liability. 

“By not having proper pruning cycles or regular maintenance on our trees, it leads to tree failures, again falling branches or complete tree failure. Falling trees lead to property damage, injuries, or potential loss of life. It also makes our trees more susceptible to disease and pest spread,” Blais said. 

Along with keeping trees healthy, a proper pruning schedule helps reduce the risk of spreading diseases such as Dutch Elm Disease. Blais noted that the basal spray the city uses to control Dutch Elm Disease is being phased out by Health Canada this month, making pruning even more important. 

This past year, the urban forestry crew has received 510 tree-related calls for service that was presented in a 46-page document to city council. Of those, 373 issues have been addressed. 

However, Blais said many of the calls for service are safety issues. 

“This year, I think we’ve had a record number of trees covering stop signs or traffic signals, different things like that,” Blais said. 

As for the city’s tree pruning cycle, about 556 trees were pruned by both the two-person crew and outside contractors. The average pruning cycle, or how often city trees are fully pruned, is 30 years. 

"In researching other communities’ pruning cycles, most cities strive for a five-year cycle, but many are also in the same boat as us and do not have the resources to meet those goals,” Blais said. 

Blais added that two additional staff members could bring the pruning cycle down to 20 years. 

He said having additional staff would create two crews of two people. One crew would focus mainly on pruning and tree removal, while the other crew would focus on tree clean-up and mulching, stump removals, removing deadfall, tree planting, tree inspections and updating the tree inventory. 

The Parks and Recreation Department also put forward recommendations to hire an additional permanent parks person, a temporary labourer for sports grounds and playgrounds, a temporary labourer for Crescent Park and a temporary labourer for cemeteries. 

After having a discussion in-camera, city council returned to table the matter. 

As of Wednesday night’s budget meeting, the proposed municipal tax increase sits at 7.6 per cent. 

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