Village workers plant a tree near the sidewalk on Friday, April 30, 2021, during a tree planting for Arbor Day outside of Field Stevenson Elementary School in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Forest Park’s village council voted unanimously to accept a $9,375 Morton Arboretum grant to help cover the costs of doing a village-wide tree inventory and developing a tree management plan.

The grant will reimburse the village for half of the cost of hiring a contractor to do the tree inventory. That cost-sharing doesn’t include the $750 fee to put the inventory information into the village’s Geographic Information System [GIS] database, which the village would have to pay out of its own pocket. 

In response to concerns about the project costs, the village will hold off on some tree-related projects. Most notably, it will delay developing a maintenance plan for trimming larger trees. 

Forest Park will still be doing regular maintenance such as removing dead trees. Under the grant conditions, the inventory must be completed no later than July 1, 2022.

Morton Arboretum issues Urban and Community Forestry Core Grants, which use funding from the USDA Forest Service and Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Under the terms of the grant agreement, the contractor will catalogue every tree in public spaces in the village. Then, they would use the information to develop a plan for how to best manage the trees that are there, including possible priorities for where new trees can be planted and what kind of trees should be planted.

One of the conditions of the grant is that the village would need to contract an Arboretum-approved vendor. According to the grant documents, this was done at IDNR’s  request “to achieve economies of scale.” The village will have to pay $19,500 up front, but the grant reimbursement will bring the cost down to $10,125. The village memo indicates that the $750 GIS charge may be reimbursed at a later time, but the grant documents don’t have any language guaranteeing that.

When Village Administrator Moses Amidei asked the council if he should apply for the grant during the Feb. 28 meeting, Commissioner Maria Maxham had concerns about costs and wondered if it would be cheaper to do the survey in-house. During the March 14 meeting, Commissioner of Public Property Jessica Voogd, whose purview includes oversight over village forestry, said that the village was able to reduce some of expenses to help offset the costs.

The village council approved the grant agreement without further discussion.

In a follow-up interview, Voogd said she talked to Sal Stella, the village’s public works director, about items that could be postponed for another year or two. She said that, since the budget for the public works department hasn’t been approved yet, “things are a bit fluid” – but she emphasized that the delays wouldn’t affect any pressing issues, such as removal of dead trees.

“We identified several line items pertaining to our trees and parkway maintenance that made a lot of sense to wait on implementing until after a tree survey and management plan are established,” Voogd said.

One item that’s definitely going to be on the list is developing plans for maintaining larger trees. Voogd said while the village regularly trims and maintain trees within its rights-of-way, it has to call in a professional tree trimmer for trees “that reach certain height and scale.”

She said that she and Stella agreed that it made sense to wait for the tree inventory to be completed, so they’d know exactly how many trees need professional trimming. 

“It could even lead to savings as we will know the status of each and every village-maintained tree,” Voogd said.