Gas taxes help pay for tree treatment, road repairs

Every time Illinois drivers buy a gallon of gasoline, nineteen cents of the purchase price goes into the Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) Fund. This money is used for a variety of things approved by the government, most of which relate to streets and highways.

After the state takes a chunk of administrative fees off the top, a little over 50% of what remains is parceled out among municipalities, counties, and townships to augment their local roadway construction and maintenance budgets.

One approved MFT use is trimming and removing trees in the public right of way — which includes municipal parkways. With the Emerald Ash Borer running rampant through northern Illinois, some communities are spending part of their MFT allocation to remove trees infected by the bug. Using MFT receipts is one way to cover these costs without increasing the real estate tax levy.

With lots of ash trees in our communities (for example, 27% of Naperville’s parkway trees in 2008), and typical costs in excess of $1,000 to remove and replace a diseased tree, mitigating Ash Borer impact can equate to a significant hit on municipal budgets.

Alternatively, ash trees can be chemically treated to greatly reduce or at least defer Ash Borer impact. Naperville has been treating its ash trees for several years with a success rate in excess of 90%.

For the 12,865 trees treated in 2013, the average cost per tree was a little more than $27, a far cry from the grand or so needed to cut down, dig out stumps, and replace diseased mature trees with a new sapling.

Beyond short term cost savings, treating trees provides aesthetic benefits (curb appeal) and the shade can reduce homeowner summertime cooling costs. A good place to see the difference between clear cutting and treatment is the White Eagle neighborhood straddling the Aurora-Naperville border. Aurora opted for tree removal and their side of the street looks barren compared to the summertime leafy expanses on the Naperville parkways.

Given the vagaries of the current State rules around MFT, funds can be used for tree removal, but cannot be used for insecticide application. To encourage more communities to consider treatment as an option, 21st District State Senator Michael Connelly has introduced SB 2658 to add treating ash trees to the permissible uses for the MFT dollars.

This bill, scheduled for Third Reading on March 19, will give cash strapped local governments an option to preserve their trees. Sen. Connelly told me that an added benefit of reducing the dollars required for tree removal is more money on hand for road repairs. This includes patching the plethora of potholes left behind by repeated Polar Vortex visits.

While the cost of filling our tanks has increased, MFT is based on a rate per gallon and higher gas prices and improved vehicle fuel economy results in fewer gallons sold, leading to less revenue in the fund. SB2658 provides a smarter way to utilize those available MFT dollars for the good of our communities.

Bob Fischer is President of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation. Contact him at bobfischer@wowway.com.

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