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Buffalo officials are preparing to launch a $2.5 million program to trim and remove hundreds of dangerous trees using private contractors, according to Mayor Masiello's top aide.

The announcement came as city lawmakers claimed dead and untrimmed trees are now the No. 1 complaint among city residents. All but one of the 12 Common Council members joined in a resolution demanding a city "tree plan" at the Council's regular meeting on Tuesday.

But according Masiello's Chief of Staff, Vincent J. LoVallo, help is already in the works.

"The tail isn't wagging the dog," he said, referring to the Council complaints. "We know there is a problem. The mayor has made this a priority."

LoVallo released a copy of an Aug. 18 study by city forester Peter J. Pasnik concluding that the backlog of trees needing attention now numbers in the thousands.

"We welcome the assistance of the Council members in pointing out addresses where trees are dead or need to be trimmed," he said.

The city's plan calls for funding to be arranged -- most likely by floating a bond issue -- to hire private contractors, who will be put to work trimming and removing dead and dangerous trees along streets and parkways.

Once the backlog of work is completed, officials believe the regular city forestry crews will be able to maintain trees.

Ideally, Buffalo's 160,000 trees in parks and street parkways should be trimmed every six to eight years, Pasnik's study says, adding: "Presently, there are trees that haven't been trimmed in 25 years."

On Tuesday, 11 of the Council's 12 members swapped tall tree tales during a 30-minute debate, complaining that Buffalo's trees have grown so bushy they're blotting out streetlights and blocking sidewalks.

"There's one tree on Milford Street with a hole so big in it that a family of three could live in it," boasted South Council Member Dennis Manley. "People out in the South District are getting pretty hot."

Lawmakers say they heard an earful of complaints while campaigning door-to-door in preparation for next week's primary election.

Before meeting's end, all of them added their names to a resolution calling for a five-year "tree plan" crafted by North Council Member Dale Zuchlewski.

But, according to LoVallo, the problem has been brewing for years.

When Masiello took office in 1994, Buffalo had replanted many streets with young trees following the ravages of the Dutch Elm disease. Its tree-trimming staff had shrunk to one, a semiretired forester who had no crew members and no serviceable equipment, LoVallo says.

As a result, officials have been slowly rebuilding the department after a long period of decline.

"This is from neglect over years and years," he said. The city now has six crew members and three pieces of heavy equipment devoted to tree trimming.

However, LoVallo also agrees that residents have been scolding the mayor's office, too -- partly because trees have grown big enough to become a problem.

Following the meeting, Council Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio said she plans to call for a special meeting to identify funds that can be used to hire contractors.

In other action, the Council:

Approved a resolution praising Editor and Senior Vice President Murray B. Light for his "acclaimed half-century career" with The Buffalo News and wishing him well in retirement.

Called on Congress to turn down proposed cuts in the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development that could mean a loss of $8.9 million in funding and 487 jobs in Buffalo in fiscal year 2000.

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