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Dog park bill passes committee

Published (2/13/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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Dubbed the “Mighty Dog” bill by its sponsor, Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), HF297 would authorize the Metropolitan Council to administer a regional dog park permit program in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Under the provisions, cities and counties could receive $1 million in grants over the next two years to build, expand or maintain new or established dog parks. Currently there are approximately two dozen dog parks in the area. An 11-member advisory board would allocate the grants. Participating governmental units must provide $1 for each $2 received.

Approved by the House Environment Policy and Oversight Committee Feb. 5, the bill was referred to the House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee. It has no Senate companion.

Park and recreation staff from Minneapolis and South St. Paul said that off-leash dog parks are an emerging trend that allows dogs to run off-leash and enables their owners to comply with city leash ordinances while still exercising their pets.

Chris Esser, South St. Paul parks and recreation director, said as owners gravitate to the parks at the same place and time, “Friends Groups” emerge.

“Some friends groups will tell you there are just as many dogs as children (in their neighborhood),” Esser said. Separating pets that are off-leash and small children is a safety consideration.

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board operates several dog parks, which generate more than $100,000 in user fees, according to Brian Rice, board attorney. South St. Paul has sold 72 voluntary memberships to its dog park, Esser said.

Adoption of the program would be contingent upon legislators’ funding support from the newly created Parks and Trails Fund, which resulted from voters passing the constitutional amendment to raise the sales and use tax.

“I would think that the first thing we would think about doing is putting some money in the maintenance of our trails and our parks throughout the state before we go off in this direction,” said Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), who voted against the bill.

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