Every two to three years, Eddie Sales trims and prunes the crape myrtles at his church, Albemarle Road Presbyterian Church. But this year, the city of Charlotte cited the church for improperly pruning its trees. “We always keep our trees trimmed back because you don’t want to worry about them hanging down in the way,” said Sales, a church member. The church was fined $100 per branch cut for excessive pruning, bringing the violation to $4,000. “I just couldn’t believe it when I heard about it,” Sales said. “We trim our trees back every three years all over our property, and this is the first time we have been fined.” The fine will be dropped if the church replaces each of the improperly pruned trees, said Tom Johnson, senior urban forester for city of Charlotte Land Development Division. “When they are nonrepairable, when they have been pruned beyond repair, we will ask them to be replaced,” Johnson said. “We do that for a number of reasons but mainly because they are going to come back unhealthy and create a dangerous situation down the road.” Charlotte has had a tree ordinance since 1978, and when trees are incorrectly pruned or topped, people can be subject to fines, Johnson said. Trees planted as a result of the ordinance are subject to the fines if they are excessively trimmed or pruned. These include trees on commercial property or street trees. They do not include a private residence. “The purpose of the tree ordinance is to protect trees,” Johnson said. “Charlotte has always been known as the city of trees. When we take down trees, we need to replace these trees.” Individuals who would like to trim their trees should call the city foresters to receive a free permit to conduct the landscape work. Foresters will then meet with the person receiving the permit and give instructions on how to properly trim their trees, Johnson said. The state Division of Forestry recommends that anyone trimming trees should be certified by the National Horticulture Board, but certification is not required to receive a permit. On private property, fine amounts are based on the size of the tree improperly pruned. For small trees such as cherry trees or crape myrtles, the fine is $75 per tree. Excessive cutting can increase that fine to $100 per branch. For large trees such as oaks or maples, the fine is $150 per tree. Because there is a widespread lack of understanding on how to prune crape myrtles in the Charlotte area, Johnson said, residents found in violation regarding these trees are asked to simply replace them, and the fine will be lifted. Sales said trees found in violation at the church must be cut down and replaced with new trees by October, but the church plans to appeal. Sales doesn’t know how much it would cost to replace the trees. “We trimmed back these trees in the interest of the church,” Sales said. “If we were in violation, we certainly did not know we were.” Typically during the course of a year, Johnson said, about six private residents are found in violation of improper topping or pruning. “We are trying to be pro-active and not trying to fine people excessively,” Johnson said.