Dog owners who use the village-owned dog park, 632 Circle Ave., will need to pay a higher annual fee this year, but the increase will be more dramatic for residents, who will need to pay twice as much as they did last year.
In order to use the dog park, dog owners must get a permit, which gives them access to a key that’s good from May 1 to April 30 of the following year. Last year, residents paid $10 if they had one dog, and an additional $2 for each additional dog. Non-residents paid $50 per dog, plus $5 per additional dog.
The ordinance that went before the Forest Park Village Council on April 24 called for resident fees to increase to $15 this year, and to $20 in 2024. For non-residents, the fee would have gone up to $55 this year and to $60 in 2024. The fee for additional dogs would have been $5 for residents and non-residents alike, and seniors would be able to pay the old rates.
But as the ordinance came up for vote, Commissioner Maria Maxham suggested raising the rates all at once, arguing that it made no sense for the village to continue subsidizing the dog park when it could break even. Commissioner of Public Works Jessica Voogd, whose areas of responsibility include oversight of the dog park, argued that a drastic increase wasn’t fair to the residents, and the more gradual increase would give the village time to see if they could cut costs. But the rest of the council sided with Maxham, voting 4-1 to adopt Maxham’s suggestion and approve the amended ordinance.
According to Village Administrator Moses Amidei’s memo to the council, Forest Park sold 119 permits in 2022, which brought in $1,751. Meanwhile, the village expenses for changing the lock, making the keys and doing regular maintenance was $2,750. The village used $999 from the General Fund to fill the gap.
The fee increase comes as Forest Park is preparing to unveil new dog park equipment, which was purchased thanks, in large part, to a fundraising campaign organized by sixth grader Juliet Harrington. The campaign raised $5,000. Forest Parkers will get their first look at the equipment on April 29 at 11 a.m.
During the April 24 council meeting, Maxham argued that it made no fiscal sense not to raise the fees in one go.
“So, we’re not breaking even on the dog part right now, and at $15 per person, we’re still not going to be breaking even,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be super huge ask for us to go directly to $20, which is the part where we’re going to be breaking even. Otherwise, we’ll be asking all the taxpayers to subsidize this dog park that only, you know, 100-odd people are using.”
Maxham added that she spoke to Finance Director Letitia Olmsted, who told her she recommended raising the fees in one go.
Voogd responded that Amidei suggested a more incremental approach in response to her feedback. She argued that, instead of “surprising folks with a 100% increase in fees” a week before the applications are due, “we do an incremental increase over the next years, while we assess our expenditures, [to see] if there’s any savings that we can make over the next year. “
Voogd also suggested that an increase in fees could encourage more people to simply climb over the fence.
Commissioner Ryan Nero said that, while he understood the bad optics of doubling the resident fees, he believed that it was the right thing to do.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes said that he didn’t think “$20 a year is a lot of money,” especially given the improvements.
The majority of the council amended the ordinance to increase the rates in one go, with Voogd voting against both the amendment and the amended ordinance.