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I TEAM: city falls behind on cutting thousands of dead/dangerous trees

CLEVELAND - The FOX 8 I TEAM has found the city of Cleveland so backlogged on cutting down dead and dangerous trees, the Public Works Director tells us there’s a list of 5,036.

We investigated after we heard about what happened recently on West 129. A massive tree on a tree lawn blew into two homes causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage. Janice Fitch says she and her neighbors had complained to the city for months about the tree. So she’s not surprised by the I TEAM’s findings.

Fitch told us, “I can believe it. But I did make every attempt before this happened to be in contact with them and say ‘Look, we gotta do something.’"

We went to City Hall and asked how we got to this point. Public Works Director Michael Cox blames part of the backlog on disease that has swept through the area in recent years attacking and killing trees. The city says it cuts down the most dangerous trees first. The one on West 129 was not at the top of the list.

Cox said, "We understand what it is, what condition they're in, and we prioritize ‘em by that. Do some that are not on the top of the list come down in a severe storm? Yes."

So what about catching up on the backlog? Well the I TEAM has found the city is getting ready to spend nearly a million bucks to hire a private contractor to help. And the city has to catch up on hiring its own workers. We checked, and the staff for cutting down trees is down by about a third. The city will use money from a new tax increase to pay for all that. But the hiring of the workers and the contractor will take several weeks, at least.

The city hopes to cut its backlog by more than half in the coming months. Councilman Brian Kazy says, let’s see. Kazy told the I TEAM, "Being five thousand behind shows it wasn't a priority." Kazy met us on a street where another large tree had crashed into a home and an SUV. He added, "The longer that we wait, it’s just like rolling the dice. We're just taking a chance that these trees are gonna start falling. Eventually they're gonna fall on somebody."

Janice Fitch knows the impact. She said, "It's a lot of stress, a lot of aggravation." She says the tree caused about $100,000 damage to her property.