Home / Government / Commission Agrees On Tree Ordinance, Splits Over Arborist Hiring

Commission Agrees On Tree Ordinance, Splits Over Arborist Hiring

Safety Harbor City Commissioners discuss the tree ordinance and arborist issues Monday night.
Safety Harbor City Commissioners agreed on the tree ordinance but split over whether the City needs to hire a full time arborist or not.

When it comes to the City of Safety Harbor’s draft tree ordinance, apparently the sixth time was the charm.

The City Commission reached a consensus on all facets of the proposed ordinance during its latest workshop Monday night, directing staff to draw up a final draft of the document to be presented to the Planning and Zoning Board for initial approval next month.

It was the sixth such workshop dedicated to redefining and strengthening the city’s existing Grand Tree Ordinance dating back to last summer, and that doesn’t include regular commission meetings and a town hall style session that addressed the subject in December.

After agreeing Monday to four sections of the ordinance that needed further clarification, including lower fees for removing trees by increasing the number of trees that are replanted, Mayor Andy Steingold praised the commission for its hard work and dedication to the topic over the past few months.

Commissioner Carlos Diaz.
Commissioner Carlos Diaz.

“I want to say good job by everybody up here,” the mayor said during his Commission Report at the end of the meeting that followed the workshop.

“The last meeting, with Commissioner Diaz conveying he was very upset, he set the stage for us to move forward with the ordinance tonight,” he added, referring to Commissioner Carlos Diaz’s comment after the last workshop that work on the ordinance was “moving at a snail’s pace.”

While the ordinance is now in the hands of city staff, another item related to trees led to dissent later in the evening.

City Manager Matt Spoor explained to the commission that the decision to bring the tree ordinance, and all the permitting, enforcement and educational issues that go along with it, in-house has resulted in the the need to hire a full-time arborist to deal with the extra workload.

The new position would require a $70,000 adjustment to this year’s budget – $50,000 for the arborist’s salary, pro-rated for the remainder of the year, plus $20,000 to purchase a vehicle for the new employee.

Commissioner Diaz was first to raise concerns over the request.

City Manager Matt Spoor.
Safety Harbor City Manager Matt Spoor

“We don’t even know where the finish line is, and we’re going to hire somebody before we know exactly what we need?” he asked after Spoor said they hope to have the position filled by April 1, when the city’s tree removal moratorium expires.

“I think one of our objectives was not to hire somebody full time,” Diaz added. “That was back in July or August, and now all of a sudden the full time arborist position comes in, which kind of surprises me.”

While Spoor admitted they had planned to forgo hiring a full-time employee to handle the work, he said after taking everything into account, they realized it would not be possible to properly enforce the ordinance without a full-time arborist on staff.

“I realize that it was the commission’s goal to attempt to do this with either existing staff or part-time staff,” Spoor conceded. “But I don’t how we do this without bringing in someone that’s going to be responsible for this.”

“There’s things we need to do to prepare for April 1, and this will allow us to do what we need to do.”

Commissioner Rick Blake concurred with Commissioner Diaz, stating he was not in favor of spending $75,000 to bring in a full- time arborist, and Vice Mayor Cliff Merz said he would rather wait until the ordinance is finalized before deciding wheteher or not to hire a full time staffer.

Mayor Andy Steingold and Commissioner Carlos Diaz discuss the arborist issue Monday night.
Mayor Andy Steingold and Commissioner Carlos Diaz discuss the arborist issue Monday night.

But Mayor Steingold supported Spoor’s request.

“I think you’re going to have to rely on the city manager, who’s here day to day and knows what the present workload is and what the demands are going to be,” the mayor said.

“Mr. Spoor is up here saying I can’t work this ordinance without a full-time person,” he added,” so what it comes down to is, do you trust Matt?

Ultimately the commission voted in favor of Resolution 2015-01 by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Blake casting the lone “nay” vote.

Here is the current (tentative) schedule for meetings on the tree ordinance:

  • Feb. 11 – Planning and Zoning Board
  • Mar. 3 – City Commission (1st reading)
  • Mar. 16 – City Commission (2nd reading)
  • Apr. 1 – Moratorium expires, new ordinance goes into effect


Note: Commissioner Rick Blake owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect.com.


  1. Tree ordinance BS.
    1. How did SH survive all these years and “be known” as a ” tree city” without more InHouse Government? This is nothing more than a perfect example of why conservatives hate “big government” intrusion in our lives. Whose liberal bright idea was this anyway?
    2. Raise taxes to pay for unnecessary government intrusions. Where do people think this $70,000 is coming from? Taxes of course. Those of us who work and pay taxes, of course!
    3. Where is the “fiscal responsibility ” the mayor : commissioners et al ran their election campaigns? Politicians are the least trusted of societies charlatans!!!
    4. I was embarrassed to see the flashing neon sign on McMullen & Main st entrance, warning SH residents of the $5,000 fine. Whose brilliant idea was that??
    5. Progress v Regress. Dunedin v SH. Embarrassing . The mayor and commission should be ashamed! Do they have nothing better to do than to create a “rent a cop” mentality for the city?
    Don’t tread on my rights to develope my property (trees or otherwise). We functioned just fine for all these years under the umbrella of the Pinellas County Codes.

    • You obviously do not live down town. Our city was doing just fine, until we started losing more than 250 trees every year, with 2 story stucco boxes built out to the 4 corners of very small in-town lots. Private property rights are not infinite. You can “develop” your property, but you can’t build a pig farm on your property. Your private property rights end at the point where your development has a negative impact on the private property rights of the surrounding properties and residents. The Developers have killed the golden goose.

  2. Commissioner Rick Blake owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect.com.
    Take the headlines (“COMMISSIONERS CONTINUE TO OVERSPEND WITH NO END IN SITE”) with MORE THAN a grain of salt. Rick Blake is a lame-duck commissioner, and Safety Harbor cannot afford to NOT have an arborist to safeguard our trees.

  3. Since we are a tree city, and want to remain known as a “Tree City” It seems to me we should have a full time “Arborist” to do the work.

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