By Dale Martin
September 16, 2022

As the current fiscal year draws to a close (September 30), City officials and staff are preparing for the opportunities and challenges of the new fiscal year. The most critical element is the completion of the annual budget. The final public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Tuesday, September 20 at 6:00 p.m. in the City Board Room. Following the public hearing and any revisions to the proposed budget, the Municipal Board will vote to adopt the budget for fiscal year 2023.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, the Municipal Board must review its legislative priorities for the coming year. Legislative priorities are requests from the municipal commission to the local delegation (senator and state representative) for consideration in next year’s state budget (although the requests are not necessarily limited to tax requests ). The state fiscal year is July through June, slightly different from the city (and county and school board) fiscal year. With the departure of Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Cord Byrd, the City looks forward to building new relationships with their successors (to be determined in November) as part of this legislative process. Florida’s legislature won’t meet next year until March, which will leave plenty of time for priority review of legislation.

Despite the beginning of the discussion of possible legislative priorities, one critical request was made informally by the Municipal Commission: the repeal, or significant amendment, of Florida Statutes Section 163.045, Pruning, Trimming or tree removal on a residential property.

Section 163.045 grew out of House Bill (HB) 1159. As reported to me, HB 1159 was introduced after a member of the legislature was cited by his hometown government for tree removal inappropriate/illegal on their property. In a successful effort to demonstrate that the gavel of state government was greater than that of local government, HB 1159 was introduced and subsequently, as a committee substitute, enacted by the state legislature in as Section 163.045, and was signed by the Governor on June 26, 2019 (and effective July 1, 2019)

The wording of the law reads in part: “A local government may not require a notice, application, approval, permit, fee or mitigation for the pruning, pruning or removal of a tree on residential property if the owner obtains documentation from an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist or a Florida Licensed Landscape Architect that the tree poses a hazard to persons or property.

If a homeowner wishes to remove a tree from their property, all that is needed is documentation from a certified arborist or landscape architect stating that the tree poses a “hazard” to persons or property. City staff shall not be required to be notified of such removal, to review the proposed removal, to require a permit for such removal or to charge a fee for such removal.

The Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture has recognized the important role of arborists certified under Section 163.045. A position paper written by the Florida chapter offered several comments in response to the new law, one of which stated: “The Florida Legislature, including the House, Senate, and Governor, with the support of sectors of insurance and construction, now trusts ISA certified arborists. more than the local government and any other Florida green industry group in helping residents make the right decision about their trees.

The position paper calls for better training of its certified arborists, including, as part of a member awareness campaign, a presentation titled “Just because you’re certified doesn’t mean you’re qualified”. Perhaps a local tree removal company should consider revisiting this presentation.

The following correspondence was submitted to the City following an owner’s request to cut down a tree: Arborist’s Report, July 27, 2022; Object: Remove 1 beautiful and huge living oak tree. [Property Owner] shared space with this huge live oak tree for a few decades or more. There may have been a time when she loved the tree, but it was so long ago that the memory was forgotten. Condition wise, this tree is in excellent health and has good integrity. Unfortunately, the tree is getting too big for his panties, and it’s all in his personal space. The tree maintains that it was here first. Even so, he never paid a dime for land, property taxes, hydro, water, sewer, cable TV, etc. He basically lives here for free, eats all the food and makes a big mess! Worse still, it’s constantly pushing hard on the foundation in the back right corner of the house, and it’s only inches from the roof. I hate to vote for the house on such a beautiful tree, but something has to give. As many owners have done this week, [Property Owner] has generously offered to give this tree to ANY homeowner who wants it right next to their home! It should be placed in a location similar to or closer to the recipient’s home. This is our best solution to save this tree. [Property Owner] would also consider swapping his property with a concerned citizen who wants it in his backyard. The property should be of similar or greater value, and the location should meet or exceed its expectations. Please see the photos below and let me know if you need a more in-depth explanation. Otherwise, I recommend removal because of the risk it poses to his home. Please contact me if you have any questions about this report, or contact our main office.

This report satisfies the wording of section 163.045.

A subsequent effort to repeal the law failed and resulted in only minor changes to the law, leaving the restrictions to the local government to protect its urban forest.

City commissioners will likely enthusiastically ask the local delegation to lead efforts to repeal section 163.045.

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