Annual Budgets for Community Tree Programs

This article explains the essentials of budgeting for the costs of a community tree program each year. It includes a community tree budget worksheet.
Annual Budgets for Community Tree Programs - Articles


Budgeting is an essential activity in every community tree program. A budget estimates costs for the year, including costs of anticipated program growth. The budget worksheet on the back of this fact sheet lists many categories of possible expenditures. Some items may not apply to your tree program, but all budgets should provide for tree removals, pruning, and planting. The amount of money allocated to each operation will depend on the condition of your community trees and the amount of work needed to improve their health and safety. Consider the following suggestions when developing your annual community tree budget.

Estimating costs

Use an annual planning session and work plan to identify needed labor, equipment, and materials. (See Fact sheet 6 for information on developing annual work plans.) Always keep accurate annual records of expenditures and work accomplished. Estimate future needs by considering the cost of past activities and the potential for growth. Remember to include special programs and money to cover unexpected costs.

Gaining support

During the year, keep decision makers well informed about your program's accomplishments and needs. Most municipal officials are not familiar with the technical details of community forestry, so the budget process should be an educational process as well. Provide the public and the media with information on program accomplishments and needs. Grassroots support can help your program compete for and secure funding.

Dividing funds

The amount of money your tree program allocates to each budget item depends partly on its age, since new programs have slightly different priorities than well-established ones. In general, allocate about 20 percent of the budget to the removal of hazardous, dead, and declining trees. Make the removal of hazardous trees your first priority. Then allocate about 40 percent of the budget to tree maintenance activities. Four-fifths of this maintenance budget could be designated for pruning.

Although tree planting is very popular and provides quick results, too many communities make the mistake of doing little but planting trees while neglecting to care for older, more valuable trees. An established program that is maintaining existing trees should spend only about 20 percent of its annual budget on tree planting.

Administrative activities are an integral part of every tree program and should receive about 20 percent of the budget. If your program is new, administrative activities and efforts aimed at building legislative and public support through education should be a high priority and receive as much as 50 percent of the budget, leaving less money for other activities.

Reducing costs

When completing your budget, consider the cost effectiveness of contracting for services or sharing some costs with other municipalities rather than having your own employees provide all services.

The worksheet on the back was developed to assist communities in identifying tree-related expenditures while planning for the future. It can be used to plan a budget for the coming year and to summarize what was spent in the past year.

The worksheet also can be used to submit a National Arbor Day Tree City USA application. The Tree City USA award consists of a walnut plaque, a large green and white flag, and highway signs featuring your community's name and the Tree City logo. To be recognized as a Tree City USA, your community must have a tree committee and a tree ordinance, celebrate Arbor Day, and spend at least $2 per capita on your tree program.

To determine your per capita expenditures, first add all funds spent for tree care, including time and money spent by public utilities. Then calculate the monetary value of volunteer labor, using minimum wage or some other reasonable rate. Calculate the value of pro-bono services by attorneys or other professionals using a reasonable professional rate and add these values to your total. Finally, determine your annual per capita expenditures by dividing your total expenditures by the number of people who live in your community. Many communities spend far more than the $2 per capita minimum required for the Tree City USA award.