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No Pruning Woes In Qns.

Comptroller’s Audit Finds Efficiency

A report by the city comptroller has found mismanagement and wasted resources with the Parks Department’s tree pruning program in every borough except Queens, it was announced Sunday, Aug. 17.

In the report Scott Stringer claims that the Parks Department’s Recreation and Forestry Service, which is responsible for all street tree maintenance provided inaccurate lists of trees in need of pruning, gave scant evidence that required postpruning inspections were completed and had inadequate controls to prevent payments for ineligible trees in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx, it was noted. The agency is responsible for maintaining approximately 650,000 street trees citywide, Stringer stated.

Each borough has an office that oversees the pruning and maintenance of trees. Inadequate pruning and tree maintenance can increase the possibility of injury and property damage from loose branches, Stringer said.

Based on the review of operations and street tree pruning from July 1, 2012 to Nov. 21, 2013, the comptroller reported the Queens office is a relative paragon as compared to other boroughs.

“Pruning operations in Queens are a model for the rest of the city,” Stringersaidinaastatement.”The Parks Department needs to implement reforms that will help protect all taxpayers, boost services and ensure greater safety of all neighborhoods.”

Private contractors are tapped to plant new street trees and maintain them for two years, Stringer noted. After this period, the Parks Department is responsible for pruning and maintenance, except in cases of trees five inches or more in diameter, it was noted.

“I’m not going out on a limb when I say that Parks’ performance has been unacceptable,” Stringer said. “Auditors found that in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island were paying contractors for pruning the wrong trees, for pruning that was never done and were not keeping accurate lists of trees that were properly maintained. Taxpayers deserve better management of our city’s trees.”

Stringer made several recommendations to correct the problems at the four borough offices which included:

– ensuring that accurate, detailed lists of trees that meet the minimum size requirement and need pruning are prepared, including locations; making sure that post-pruning inspections are completed and documented;

– reviewing all contractors invoices to make sure payments are made only for the correct trees;

– ensuring the Manhattan office tracks the streets that have been pruned by a contractor so that no streets are missed and that all street trees in need are pruned;

– investigate and try to recover money that was improperly paid to prune trees that were less than five inches in diameter or were not pruned and;

– referral to the Department of Investigation an evidence the Parks Department finds of any intentional phony documentation of invoices by private contractors.

“The city pays out millions per year in settlements resulting from falling limbs,” Stringer said. “Reducing the city’s exposure to these types of claims is a mandate that cuts across all city agencies. I look forward to working with the Department of Parks and Recreation to achieve better results for our city.”

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