QUINCY -- The coronavirus pandemic has claimed another casualty -- the entirety of the Quincy Tree Commission's budget.
Quincy's Director of Planning and Development Chuck Bevelheimer told members of the Tree Commission last week that $100,000 had been cut from the department's budget, which includes the commission's $30,000 budget, as city officials look to curtail the effects of the pandemic, which shuttered stores, restaurants and bars in the city, causing the city's sales tax revenue to plummet.
Early projections show that the city will likely lose almost $4 million, though Bevelheimer said he worries that more cuts may be likely in the future as the economy struggles to recover from the pandemic.
"We had to make cuts to a lot of things within the department, including to the Tree Commission," Bevelheimer said.
Among the programs axed by the budget crunch was the annual treatment of the city's ash trees, which was estimated to cost $19,000. The treatment involves a highly-potent pesticide being applied to the trunk of the trees in hopes of warding off the emerald ash borer.
"We just have no money available for EAB treatment," Bevelheimer said.
Since 2017, the city has used the highly potent pesticide on 400 of the city's estimated 1,200 trees. The invasive EAB is the culprit behind the deaths of an estimated 8.7 billion ash trees in North America, including a large number of trees located on public and private property in Quincy and Adams County.
"(EAB) is here and it is spreading quickly," said Bob Terstriep, a member of the city's tree commission.
"Not treating for EAB is going to be interesting to see what happens," he added.
Bevelheimer said he is optimistic that the chemicals, which are advertised as being effective for two years, will continue to ward off the bug.
"The trees that were going to be treated this year were previously treated in 2018," Bevelheimer said. "Part of the hope, but also our concern, is that we don't know if we started early enough to inoculate our trees and did we give them enough protection that they can last at least another year."
Tree Commission member Cathy Carpenter said she was worried that expected future city budget woes would leave the spell the end of the EAB treatment program in Quincy.
"I would hate to have a situation a year or two down the line where because it was cut once that no one will want to fund it again," Carpenter said.
The budget cuts also scrapped plans to revitalize the city's dormant annual tree sales program, which had been discontinued for a number of years. The tree sale was expected to cost the city $20,000, but officials say that the city would have recouped more than $10,000 from the sale and planting of the trees.
"The citizens of Quincy are the real losers in the situation, because they would have the opportunity to purchase tree species that would have added value to their neighborhood, would have beautified their street, and helped the environment. Given the finances, we certainly understand what the city is facing financial, but we are still disappointed that we couldn't move forward with our plans," said Tree Commission chairperson Sarah Fernandez.
She said she was confident that in the near future the city would again fund the anti-EAB treatments on city trees and other programs because of the high value that Quincy residents place on tree-lined streets and tree-filled neighborhoods.
"When we see new homes and buildings built, you see landscaping being completed that includes trees. That gives me hope Quincy residents still value trees. So while we are thankful for the opportunity to have treated our city's trees, we know this is not the end of that program," Fernandez said. "In the meantime, we will just keep hoping that Mother Nature will cooperate with us and that tree's natural defenses will fight off the EAB until we can resume treating the trees again."
Also cut from the program was the city's Arbor Day Tree planting, which had been had already been postponed. The tree planting, which was tentatively slated for Washington Park, is now pushed back indefinitely. In light of the budget cuts, members of the Tree Commission say they will privately fund the purchase of a plaque honoring the recipient of this year's Community Beautification Award. The recipient will be announced at a later date.