Dog park on March ballot?
The Friends of Canine Corner received approval in January from Town Council to use an 80-foot-by-200-foot parcel on Nashua Road for a dog park, providing that the construction, monitoring, operation and fundraising be conducted by the group, which began as a town-appointed subcommittee.
The motion also stipulated that a mutually agreeable contract would need to be developed between the town and the Friends.
Town Manager Jessie Levine said that after years of discussion, it is time to make some decisions on the issue, and expressed concerns about staff hours and town liability.
“My primary concern is that if, in any way, this becomes affiliated with the town, that we would incur the loss of staff time, even if the project were to be completely funded by fundraising,” Levine said at a recent Town Council meeting.
“I don’t think we can spare the oversight of this park,” she said.
Levine went on to say that under state law, towns have a certain level of immunity when it comes to parks. By involving a nonprofit organization in park management, that immunity goes away and the volunteer organization must absorb the liability.
Sandy Lamontagne, a member of the Friends of Canine Corner, said the group has always been under the impression that the dog park would be a town park.
In past years, Lamontagne said, the issue of liability had come up and the group was clear that it did not want a lease agreement with the town.
“We have never come up with an opinion that it’s something we’d even be interested in,” she said.
Lamontagne said that exposing a group of volunteers to potential lawsuits was too much for the town to ask.
“Asking private citizens now to take on the liability, it just seems a lot to ask of these volunteers that were solicited by the town to do this in the first place,” she said.
The town does have lease agreements with three other entities, the Stephens-Buswell School, the cross-country ski team and the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill.
Councilor Chris Bandazian said the educational farm has a $2 million liability policy that lists the town as a named insured, and that he didn’t see why that couldn’t work for the dog park.
Levine said she was prepared to make a decision on the issue, but didn’t want to go against the intent of the council.
“In my opinion, this is a management decision,” said Councilor Ken Peterson, and added that the council should support Levine.
“I do not feel comfortable having this in any way be a town obligation right now, given the maintenance budgets we’ve had in the past,” Levine said. “I just cannot recommend that we take this on.”
Levine said after the meeting, she presented the Friends of Canine Corner with three options: to enter into a lease agreement with the town, to draw up a warrant article for a vote by residents in March for the town to take on the park’s operation, or wait one year to see if staffing issues change.