Dog walkers will now have to pay for the right to bring their pets to the Forest Park dog park, though the fees will be significantly less than in many surrounding suburbs.
The village council voted earlier this month to impose an annual fee of $10 with an added $2 fee for each additional dog for residents and $15 plus $3 for each additional for non-residents who use the park, following a recommendation from the village’s recreation board.
Village Administrator Michael Sturino sent a memo to the village commissioners noting that he thought the recommended fees were too low to cover the expenses the village incurs from operating the dog park, located at the southeast corner of Lehmer Street and Circle Avenue.
“I just think we need to get in the mindset that if we want nice things in the village, we have to pay for them,” said Sturino. “I’m a dog walker myself, and I want to have a dog-friendly town, but these things cost money.”
Village Commissioner Terry Steinbach, who attends the recreation board’s meetings as village liaison, disagreed, arguing that sufficient funding is received from donations and from the yearly “doggypalooza” event at the dog park to justify the minimal fees.
She estimated that this fundraising event, held each fall at the dog park, brings in $2,000-$3,000.
Steinbach sent a memo to the commissioners on the day of the council meeting stating that she had been told by Public Works Director Bob Kutak that there are no significant additional costs to operating the dog park as opposed to the two other village-operated playgrounds.
The only additional expense, she wrote, would be the spreading of mulch twice a year at the dog park as opposed to just once a year at the playgrounds.
She noted there had been no insurance premium increase when the dog park first opened, and there had been no claims relating to accidents or bites at the dog park since its opening.
Beginning on June 1, however, the dog park will need to comply with county health ordinances requiring that all dogs using dog parks have received required vaccinations, Steinbach said enforcement of these requirements will not impose additional expenses to the village. Police, she said, will be able to integrate occasional spot checks at the dog park into their regular patrol schedule at no added cost.
A memo from Kutak sent just less than two hours before Steinbach’s note, however, tells a slightly different story. In addition the $1,022 cost of the extra load of wood chips, he noted, the village needs to order 24 cases of pet waste bags for the dog park each year, costing about $1,578.
The village will also need to install metal edging at the park to keep wood chips from spilling onto the sidewalk, which will cost about $825, according to estimates received by the village.
Steinbach said she had not yet received Kutak’s memo at the time she send her note to the council, stating that she had been traveling to the conference that caused her to miss the council meeting. She said her memo instead referred to a telephone conversation she had with Kutak earlier that morning.
Steinbach commented that even with the additional expenses noted by Kutak, she believed the village would be able to operate the dog park with the current fee structure without losing money.
Still, some say they feel they were misled by the memo they received from Steinbach, including Commissioner Mark Hosty, who actually voted against the fees, stating that he opposed the idea of charging residents to use village parks.
“My philosophy is that if we have parks I want to encourage people to use them,” he said. “Any time there’s been an opportunity to make this village more green, I’ve been behind it.”
Hosty said that if given accurate information, he might have either voted for the fees or looked to find alternate ways to fund the park, such as imposing substantially higher fees for non-residents.
“I voted based on misleading info from [Steinbach] and I think that’s improper,” said Hosty. “When I was told the cost was negligible as opposed to any other park, I thought ‘why would we be charging more for this?'”
Hosty said he did not believe Steinbach’s statement that she had not received Kutak’s memo when she sent her note to the commissioners.
“You’d have to be naive to buy that,” he said. “I’ve never misrepresented facts to the council and I’ve never had anyone else do it except Commissioner Steinbach. This could be an example of why the council doesn’t get along,” he said.
An Oak Park committee has recommended annual fees in the area of $40-$50 for use of that village’s dog parks, and currently does not allow outside dogs to use its two dog parks.
Northlake charges $10 for residents and $50 for non-residents. DuPage County charges $125 per year for use of its dog parks, according to Sturino’s memo to the council.
In order to receive a license to use the dog park, dog owners must provide proof that their pet has been checked for internal parasites and vaccinated for rabies, distemper, hepatitis, para-influenza, parvovirus and kennel cough.
The licenses will be valid from May 1 of each year to April 30 of the following year. With the licenses, the village will issue a tag to be worn by each licensed dog as well as a badge to be worn by dog owners while at the dog park.
Violations will result in a $15 fine, though the fine can be voided if the dog owner produces proof that they have obtained a license from the village within 14 days of receiving a citation.