This Major Change Will Result in Higher Taxes and Fees
The municipality currently has tree liability protection as provided by the New Jersey Shade Tree and Community Forestry Assistance Act. However, this protection will immediately end should the Shade Tree Commission become an advisory body. Forestry professionals have advised Southampton's Shade Tree Commission that changing the Commission into an advisory body will take away the municipality’s immunity from liability relative to community forestry. Forestry industry professionals have advised the Commission that if this change is passed and takes effect, it will introduce an unnecessary risk, causing Southampton Township’s insurance policy costs to substantially increase. The forestry professionals also warned that the Township could lose the insurance policy altogether and struggle to find new insurance.
If a tree lawsuit is brought against the municipality, the Township would likely lose and face a monetary judgement. Southampton Township's limited litigation budget and any unrestricted reserve fund would likely be completely wiped out and it would probably not cover the total verdict. Lawsuits involving tree incidents have produced judgements against United States municipalities as high as $12,000,000 and on average are at least a couple million dollars. To make up the difference, a variety of funding sources usually have to be looked at. If the Township somehow retains it's insurance with this change, it too will likely not be able to cover the total verdict. This means it will be passed onto residents and business owners through higher taxes and fees. Increased fees and tazes could have a major impact on our community, including in our mobile home parks .
On November 12, 2015, at the regular meeting of the Shade Tree Commission, guest speaker John H. Anlian, Esq. discussed Shade Tree Commissions vs. advisory bodies at great length. Mr. Anlian, a shade tree law expert, presents information concerning New Jersey Tree Law at the annual New Jersey Shade Tree Federation Conference. He said that the municipality must have a Shade Tree Commission to receive the special immunity. He stated that there have been court decisions that support this and that an advisory body would forfeit the immunity. Mr. Anlian explained that because there is an existence of a Shade Tree Commission along with an approved Community Forestry Management Plan, Southampton Township currently has a gigantic wall with a moat around it and that not even a clever lawyer could pierce through that wall should a community forestry dispute arise. He described to those in attendance that it is logical for a municipality to have a Shade Tree Commission and that it is foolish to make it an advisory body. Mr. Anlian said that the law is really specific and that municipalities without a Shade Tree Commission are sitting ducks. Mr. Anlian described that it was amazing that the New Jersey Legislature passed this legislation and it provides really special protection to municipalities.
Also, keep in mind without effective management and sound decision-making (which will be present if there is no Commission), there will be increased costs. For example, if an invasive insect attacks due to an inadequate response, and trees are killed, the municipality will have to pay for removals. Adequate management would develop a response which reduces the threat of dead trees and controls the costs. When a Township Committee takes on the tremendous decision making responsibility of a community forestry program, it causes inadequate responses because they can't handle the work load with all of the other functions of the municipal government that they handle.
Examples of Lawsuits Include: