Budget cuts could trim ‘Tree City’ designation

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 72 views 

The Arbor Day Foundation announced today that Fort Smith had once again been named a Tree City USA for the seventh consecutive year, which honors the city's "commitment to effective urban forest management."

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, Fort Smith qualified for the designation this year after meeting the programs four requirements:
• A tree board of department;
• A tree-care ordinance;
• An annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita; and
• An Arbor Day observance and proclamation.

But the city's designation may soon end because of the city's impending across-the-board budget cuts.

According to Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Mike Alsup, eliminating his department's urban forester position is part of his recommendations to city administration to trim his department's budget by 4%.

He said even prior to the budget cuts, Fort Smith could have already been on track to lose the designation in following years. Alsup said until last year, the city and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith evenly split the costs associated with staffing an urban forester.

Now that the position is no longer partially funded by the university, Alsup said the city had been seeking a part-time urban forester, but to no avail.

"Since the first of the year, I've had a part-time position open but I haven't found a qualified person who can work part-time," he said.

Due to the inability to find a qualified candidate and the city's need for budget cuts, the position is now on the chopping block, Alsup said.

Even though the city will risk losing the Tree City USA designation due to budget cuts, Alsup said it does not mean the department will change how they approach urban forestry.

"(The designation) helps you know (urban forestry) is important," he said. "But you don't have to have the designation to do the right thing, it just encourages you do do the right thing."

Tracy Winchell, communications manager for the city, said she hopes a generous benefactor will come forward to help maintain the status.

"The city needs an abrader," she said. "Let's hope the community comes together on this."