SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council unanimously approved evening hours for dogs to run off leash on Willard Beach, while also forcing owners to maintain better control of their dogs and imposing strict fines when they do not.
The council also approved a five-year agreement to lease a portion of the Redbank General Store for a proposed resource hub near Brickhill for police and social services, despite the fact the $45,000 project has yet to be funded through the city’s grant program.
The revised dog ordinance expands the hours dogs are allowed on Willard Beach during the summer. From May 1 to Sept. 30, dogs will allowed to run off leash from 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. The new schedule gives off-leash dogs an extra hour on the beach; old rules only allowed dogs from 6-9 a.m.
The new rules, however, require dog owners to carry a leash at all times and be able demonstrate immediate voice control over their dogs (meaning the animal must respond at first call) at the request of the animal control officer, who has the authority to issue fines.
Owners who violate the ordinance could be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third. Any owner summonsed for three offenses would no longer be able to use the beach with their pet, unless they prove the dog has been properly trained.
No changes were made to winter access rules, when dogs are allowed off leash during daytime hours from Oct. 1 to April 30.
The unanimous vote came after Councilor Jim Soule tried to postpone the roll call because Councilor Patti Smith was absent from the meeting. Soule said it would be a disservice to the public for Smith not to participate, but his motion failed.
Councilor Linda Boudreau said a citizen referendum is the only solution to the ongoing complaints at Willard Beach, while other councilors oppose that solution because it could be as divisive within the community as it is on the council.
Councilors generally agreed the new ordinance, about a year in the making, is a compromise.
Resident Irene Stapleford, however, questioned the council’s rationale for expanding dogs hours, especially since the new ordinance was meant to address complaints about too many dogs being out of control on the beach. Dog owners, while grateful for increased access, also expressed concerns during workshops that evening hours may create more problems than they would solve.
The new ordinance was a setback for a group seeking to put the issue to voters this fall.
Tanner Street resident Gary Crosby, who is leading a petition drive to ban dogs from the beach during the summer, said the group collected about 100 signatures before being alerted that new petitions would be needed because of the ordinance change.
Crosby said he and about 20 other residents have since had great success in collecting signatures. However, since the group does not regularly report back to him, Crosby could not estimate how many signatures the group has received towards the 930 needed to put the question on the November ballot.
“The response has been incredible,” Crosby said. “The collectors have told, almost without exception, that people are telling them it’s about time we did this. … I feel better about it now than I did before.”
SUBHED-Redbank resource hub
In other business, the council also unanimously approved a five-year agreement with the owners of the Redbank General Store, Impala LLC, for a resource hub for police and social services in the Brickhill area.
The proposal was spearheaded by City Manager Jim Gailey, Police Chief Edward Googins, Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin, Councilors Boudreau and Jim Hughes and several social service agencies.
Several councilors, however, were concerned about future funding for the project, proposed as part of the 2009 Community Development Block Grant program, which distributes federal grants to low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.
“I don’t want something to start and then go down the tubes,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said. “That’s worse than not having anything.”
An estimated $30,000 would be needed to rehabilitate an unused portable classroom to be donated by the schools for the proposed hub and another $15,000 annually would provide staffing. In addition to having a police presence, the hub is envisioned to be staffed by a social worker from the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies.
But an advisory committee that issues CDBG funding recommendations to the City Council, which ultimately determines how the money is spent, has yet to complete its work.
“I almost sense we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Mayor Tom Blake said.
Meanwhile, Soule suggested the city should press area landlords to hire their own private security firm to deal with the increased calls for police services that has accompanied the build-out of Brickhill, which has become one of the largest neighborhoods in the city.