Fake tree becomes real issue

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Augusta commissioners are debating whether to save money by purchasing an artificial Christmas tree for use at Augusta Common.

Augusta commissioners might soon be considered the grinches who stole the city's traditional Christmas tree.

At a commission committee meeting Tuesday, City Administrator Fred Russell proposed that the city purchase a 35-foot manufactured tree for the annual tree lighting at Augusta Common, instead of buying a live tree each year. Commissioners voted to delay purchasing the $26,845 artificial tree until photographs are available.

"Fiscally, we should approve this purchase, though we recognize that the tradition is having a real one," Mr. Russell said in the committee meeting.

Purchasing a live tree costs the city $14,000 to $16,000 each year, Mr. Russell said.

The cost includes locating, harvesting, transporting, erecting and decorating the tree, said Rick Acree, the assistant director of Augusta's Public Services Department. More than 75 percent of the cost is for transporting the tree from the mountains of North Carolina to downtown Augusta, Mr. Acree said. Lighting the tree with incandescent lights is also costly, he said.

If the commissioners decide to purchase the artificial tree, energy-saving LED lights would be used, and the decorated tree would be transported from Syracuse, N.Y., Mr. Acree said.

Commissioner Corey Johnson said the money saved using a realistic-looking artificial tree could go toward other city events.

"I'd like to see us do more for New Year's," he said. "We can spend our dollars on that."

Commissioner Betty Beard said the city's tradition should not be broken for the sake of saving money.

"Christmas is very, very important to all of us," she said. "Everybody needs to know what a fresh tree looks like, and that's at the Commons."

Ms. Beard suggested that the commissioners conduct a survey of what kind of tree residents would prefer.

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

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