Rule stumps tree trimmers

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Jared Mares’ regular employer allowed him Tuesday off to help his friend’s small tree service cut down a large tree in Brooksville, the roots of which had grown and disrupted a resident’s septic and water system.

“This tree needs to come down,” Mares said. “I need the money, my family needs the money.”

Mares and others on the job are certified by the state to remove trees, they said, which Pasco, Citrus, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties have recognized. But the outcome of Tuesday’s labor was a $575 ticket: about $175 more than what the company owner was expecting to make after overhead with the loading trucks, Bobcat and other equipment.

“My kids need food on the table, I got bills to pay; I have four daughters and I’m a single dad,” Mares said. “I took all day off to do this job, now I can’t get paid. It really eats me up.”

A permit costs $50, but a license is still required for trade labor, and Hernando County includes tree removal under that umbrella where other counties do not.

“Hernando County is a little unusual in that it requires a license for tree removal,” said Vic Heisler, field investigator for Hernando County Development Services. “One of the reasons we require licensing is to make sure the aptitude is there, that they’re capable of doing the work they’re licensed for, and have insurance and workman’s compensation to protect their employees and the owner of the home they’re working for.”

The employees at Tuesday’s stalled tree removal operation have insurance policies, they say, and the tree service owner has liability insurance up to $500,000 for any damages occurring to a customer’s property.

“We have a Florida certificate, they just don’t recognize it in this county,” Mares said. “They were understandable enough to let me have today off, and help this man who was helping this (customer), but now I’m not going to be able to be paid today, and I took time off of my job today.”

State Statute 489.127 prohibits violating any county ordinance relating to uncertified or unregistered contractors, Heisler said, and although the county approaches licensing violations as a civil matter for the roughly 30 licensed trades it recognizes, it remains a potential criminal offense because of the state statute.

“For tree removal you have to be licensed as a contractor in Hernando County. The gentleman I just wrote a citation to is not licensed to operate in Hernando County,” Heisler said. “I empathize with some of these guys. They’re trying to make a buck, and unfortunately it’s against the law.”

And it happens enough, not just in tree removal, to be a full-time job, Heisler said.

“It seems especially right now there are a lot of investors with housing foreclosures buying three, four, five properties to fix up a house and sell it or rent it,” Heisler said. “They hire people not licensed to remodel. There seems to be a lot of that going on right now.”

Mares and the other men said they did not feel the $575 ticket was justified, since they were not jeopardizing themselves or their customer by using improper equipment. A warning would have been more fitting, they said, especially since the ticket charged them with cutting down a tree that is still standing.

“If you want to ticket someone, ticket them for being up in a tree without proper equipment,” Mares said. “That I understand, but not guys working efficiently who are licensed in other counties.”

Trade licenses can be obtained by contacting the building department, Heisler said.

(352) 544-5271