Rolla is forging ahead in qualifying as a Tree City community through the national program Tree City USA. The program recognizes cities throughout the nation that have organized community forestry programs supported by municipal ordinances.

An ordinance proposing a revision to the city code that grants authority to the Parks Advisory Commission to function as the City of Rolla Tree Board and expands the Commission from five voting members to six, was read for the first time as the proposal went before the city council.

The City Council incorporated one of four standards established by the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters essential to the city’s designation as a Tree City USA community by enacting a tree care ordinance regulating the planting, maintenance and removal of trees, shrubs and other plants on city property.

The next step for the city in the process of qualifying for the designation is to revise the tree care ordinance, the city passed on June 3, relating to the Parks Advisory Commission. The proposed ordinance adds a sub-section for the various roles the Commission will have, Rolla’s Parks and Recreations Director Floyd Jernigan said at the council’s June 17 meeting.

The ordinance would amend Article IV – Parks and Recreation Commission, Sections 31-23 and Sections 31-24, by inserting a sub-section to the responsibilities of the Parks Advisory Commission, so the Commission can act as the city’s Tree Board and provide input on public tree management.

“The other revision in this ordinance relates to the number of members from five to six, and the sixth member having expertise in tree planting and care,” Jernigan said. “This sixth member would fill a term that would last through June 2020.”

For the city to have an official Tree Board, someone in the community must have legal responsibility for the care of all trees on city-owned property. By the municipality delegating tree care decisions to a professional forester, arborist, city department or citizen-led tree board, city leaders determine who will perform necessary tree work — with the public knowing who is accountable for decisions that impact community trees, according to the Arbor Day Foundation’s four standards for Tree City USA recognition.

During the first reading of the ordinance, Mayor Louis Magdits opened the floor for discussion, and Ward 5 city councilor Jim Williams asked Jernigan why the city was planting trees back among trees in Green Acres after one of Williams’ constitutes questioned him about the matter.  

“Part of the project was planting a number of trees down the stream there in Green Acres,” Jernigan said. “It’s about improving the quality of the water and lowering the temperature.”

The concentration of dissolved oxygen in the stream running through Green Acres is too low. Dissolved oxygen is inversely related to water temperature, and during the summer, dissolved-oxygen levels are at a seasonal low, resulting in the loss of fish, according to Rolla’s Public Works Director Steve Hargis.

“Putting the canopy back over it will shade that creek in the summertime,” Hargis said. “There weren’t any trees along the stretch; that is why we are doing that.”

Now the city must advance the proposed ordinance to a second and final reading. If the ordinance passes, then the Parks Advisory Commission, by law, will act as the city’s Tree Board and provide input on public tree management and care. The Parks Advisory Commission will consist of six voting members representing various groups who utilize the city’s parks such as the city’s youth-sports groups, ecologist groups, naturalist groups and groups from the city’s business community. One member of the Commission will have additional expertise in tree planting and care, under the proposed ordinance.

The members will serve three-year terms, or serve on the Commission until their successors are appointed, the ordinance dictates. The first appointees, upon the formation of the Commission, will be appointed for staggered terms — one member appointed for a one-year term, two members appointed for a two-year term and two members appointed for a three-year term. And only six voting members of the Parks Advisory Commission will cast votes; a quorum is defined in the ordinance as a majority of the voting membership.

Once the council passes the ordinance, revising the city code and establishing the Parks Advisory Commission, who will act as Rolla's Tree Board, the city must then create an annual budget of at least $2 per capita for tree care into the city’s next fiscal budget.

The city is currently working to identify existing budget expenditures that can be applied towards the Tree City USA requirement of $2 per citizen.