Janesville City Council to discuss letting dogs return to parks

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Frank Schultz
Monday, March 25, 2013

— Janesville has banned dogs from most parks during the warm months for more than 40 years. That could change.

The city council tonight will consider whether to invite public input and debate on the prospect of allowing dogs in parks and bicycle trails all year long.

The council is being asked to consider whether to schedule the issue for a public hearing April 8.

City council President Kathy Voskuil and councilmember Matt Kealy requested the change.

Kealy said younger residents with dogs have told him they’d like to take their dogs for runs or walks in the parks.

“It’s the city of parks. Let’s cut the red tape and let people use some of these parks that we spend millions of dollars to keep up,” Kealy said.

The parks budget is more than $1 million a year if capital improvements are included, he said.

Kealy said the council might not discuss the issue much Monday, deferring until April 8.

“I would encourage people to contact city council and voice their opinion,” Kealy said.

Kealy acknowledged that the ordinance might lead to complaints of dog feces in parks, but “people who honor this and do good shouldn’t be punished for those that do bad.”

Voskuil said she had heard of cities that received grants to set up feces drop-off stations on trails and suggested that could encourage people to be responsible.

The idea came to Voskuil in budget discussions last September, when the idea was brought up as a way to get more people to use the parks, and she noted the benefits to the community if residents were more physically active.

Now, dogs are allowed in parks from Sept. 15 through May 15. The ordinance requires a leash of 6 feet or less and that owners remove dog droppings.

The ordinance applies to the bicycle trail system, greenbelt system and “any other recreation facilities,” according to a city memo.

The ordinance was designed as a compromise that allowed dogs in parks during less busy times of the year.

The ordinance also bans pets from playgrounds year-round.

City staff opposes changing the ordinance. The leisure services advisory committee voted 5-1 this month in agreement with the staff recommendation.

“The parks director believes that the current seasonal ban provides a satisfactory compromise between a complete pet ban and no pet restrictions,” according to the memo.

The city offers residents two pet-exercise areas where dogs are allowed year-round—38 acres in Palmer Park and 217 acres at the Rock River Parkway on the south side.

The city also offers Paw Print Park, a fenced dog park within Prairie Knoll Park that charges a fee.

The memo states that police enforce the ordinance as a low priority and that compliance is mostly on the honor system.

City staff surveyed 13 “peer” cities. None of the cities has a partial-year rule like Janesville’s.

Four of the cities do not allow dogs in parks. Four do. Three allow dogs only in a few select park areas. Two allow dogs only on park paths or sidewalks.

Six of the cities allow dogs on trails. Four do not. Two cities allow dogs only on a few trails. One city allows dogs only on trails that are not in parks.

In seven of the cities, police enforce the ordinance if time is available and consider it a low priority. Six of the cities do not enforce the ordinances because police are too busy.

Most of the cities are like Janesville, relying on residents’ honor.

City staff report hearing differing opinions over the years.

“The current ordinance is seen as a positive or a hindrance. Likewise, changing the regulation will please some residents while frustrating others,” the memo states.

The city’s leisure services division reported that “getting residents to abide by regulations is difficult; citizens are uninterested in reading signs and following rules, particularly where there is little enforcement available to monitor the situation and areas represented under the rules are vast and open.”

Staff note that a change would mean replacing the existing signs, more than 100 of them in the first year, costing an estimated $4,500, or $9,500 if posts are needed.

Staff recommends that if the change is made, the council ban pets year round at athletic fields, Lions Beach and picnic groves and pavilions.

The proposed ordinance would allow sports groups that lease city facilities to make their own dog rules.

The staff memo states that allowing dogs on the trails only would be “difficult to communicate and nearly impossible to enforce. … There should be no expectation that residents will follow the regulations to stay only on the trails, and there should be no expectation that the ordinance will be enforced.”

Last updated: 8:16 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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