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Brookline eyes $50 fee to let dogs off the leash

Posted by Brock Parker  December 1, 2010 07:36 PM

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Brookline could soon unleash an annual fee on dog owners who wish to let their pets run untethered in local parks.

Selectmen are mulling a plan to charge Brookline residents $50 a year to allow their dogs off the leash in any of the 14 local parks where it is allowed. The fee is per dog, and anyone who doesn’t live in Brookline would pay $100 a year for the privilege.

Brookline’s Park and Recreation Commission is seeking the fee to pay for cleanup, educational efforts and oversight of the town’s off-leash initiative, known as the Green Dog Program. Commission member Nancy O’Connor said the money raised would be used towards funding a park ranger position.

But not all dog owners are ready to rollover for the proposed fee.

Dog owner Ron Scharlack said other people who use local parks for unorganized activities do not have to pay a fee and neither should dog owners wishing to let their pets off the leash.

“What I see is bureaucracy spreading out of control and justifying extra costs for the citizens,” Scharlack told selectmen at a meeting about the proposal Tuesday.

Dog owner Matt Garvey said a park ranger could be used for other duties in local recreation areas, and the position should be funded by a general tax rather than imposing a fee solely on dog owners.

“The way I see it, it sounds like more of a sin tax than a use tax,” Garvey said of the off-leash fee.

Other dog owners said they had no problem with the fee. Carol Hillman, who walks her dog at Amory Park, said she and most of the other dog owners she’s spoken with would happily pay the fee to help fund the park ranger.

Brookline’s Parks and Open Space Director Erin Gallentine, said use of the off-leash areas during the designated morning hours has been increasing since the program began around 2003. But the deterioration of parks and off-leash areas is the top complaint the town hears about the Green Dog Program, she said.

Park officials had been considering the off-leash fee as far back as 2008, but held off to better assess the idea. The Green Dog Program costs the town about $55,000 a year to operate and the fees are expected to bring in about $30,000, Gallentine said.

In addition to fees for dog owners, the town is also considering a $500 annual fee for Brookline dog walking businesses to use the off-leash hours in the parks, and a $750 user fee for dog walking businesses that aren’t based in the town.

Selectwoman Jesse Mermell said she still has questions about the fee, including whether the program could provide some visitor passes. Selectmen Chairwoman Betsy DeWitt said the board could vote on the proposed fee next week.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

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