By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City officials seem stumped, so to speak, over how to keep up with the growing number of city-owned street trees that need to be pruned or removed.

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Parks and recreation commissioner Michael DiBerardinis told a City Council committee that out of 130,000 trees lining the streets of  Philadelphia, they have a backlog of about 10,000 that need pruning and 3,000 that need to be removed.

But limited dollars, he said, keeps that backlog growing.

Eighth district councilwoman Cindy Bass, whose district in Northwest Philadelphia is heavily tree-lined, is concerned.

“How do we catch up?” she asked today.  “Is there a plan?”

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DiBerardinis said the budget for tree pruning and removal has been flat for several years, and he admitted his plan to boost the rate of tree maintenance is essentially ad-hoc, trying to free funding up from other budgets.

“That’s about the best we’re going to do right now,” he said.  “Use of capital dollars, use of NTI (Neighborhood Transformation Initiative bond proceeds) — that does not constitute a plan.  But it is our best effort to respond to the backlogs.  Do we need to do more?  I think we have to.  But given where we are now with our budget, with our removal budget, our capital budget, I think we’re doing a good job with what we have.  But obviously to catch up we’d have to add more resources.”

The debate comes amid Mayor Nutter’s own effort, dubbed “Greenplan,” to have every Philadelphia neighborhood achieve 30-percent tree coverage by 2025.

At today’s hearing, councilmembers openly wondered why the administration is planting new trees when it can’t maintain old ones.  DiBerardinis said the young trees won’t need maintenance for many years.

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