2013-11-15 / In the News

Dog-leash referendum is scheduled for Dec. 3

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Less than 24 hours after the municipal election Tuesday, Nov. 5, Scarborough Town Clerk Tody Justice was busy preparing for another election.

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, the town will host a special election at town hall to see if voters approve of a decision the Town Council made in early October to change the animal control ordinance to ban unleashed dogs at all times on all townowned properties, including beaches.

The decision, which was spurred by a piping plover that was killed by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach in July, split the council.

Justice said at the Town Council meeting Nov. 6 absentee ballots were available through her office for the special election.

In October, Councilors James Benedict, Ed Blaise, Kate St. Clair and Richard Sullivan supported the change to the animal control ordinance. Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist and councilors Judy Roy and Jessica Holbrook voted against it.

Previously dogs were allowed unleashed on beaches from sunrise to 9 a.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15. They were allowed on beaches unleashed anytime from Sept. 16 to June 14.

The referendum was prompted by Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough, a group of concerned citizens who felt the decision was rushed and lacked feedback from the public. The group, which recently formed a political action committee to raise funding for the election, spent two weeks early last month circulating a petition to overturn the council decision.

Katy Foley, who led the petition effort, said members of D.O.G.S have offered to help the council draft a new animal control ordinance that better balances the concerns of dog owners with protecting the piping plover, a bird listed as endangered under the Maine Endangered Species Act. She said the group is not asking for the town of Scarborough to open up to unleashed dogs. Members understand not everyone likes dogs and in some cases dogs should be on a leash.

“We understand there is probably more work to be done on this ordinance in the future and would welcome an opportunity to participate in those conversations, but at this point we felt we had no other option but to push ahead with a campaign to overturn this overly restrictive ordinance,” Foley told the Town Council last week at its meeting Wednesday, Nov. 6.

On Dec. 3, voters will be asked, “Shall the amendments to Chapter 604 — Animal Control Ordinance adopted by the Town Council on October 2, 2013 be approved?”

Since the issue is complex, an explanatory statement about the referendum has been published online. It is also posted outside Justice’s office. The statement reads, “The Town Council adopted amendments to the Scarborough Animal Control Ordinance that require all dogs to be on leash no more than 30 feet in length on any public street, sidewalk or public property and on a leash no more than eight feet in length while on any beach, year round. The leash requirement does not apply to dogs on town-owned property when used for hunting or in designated areas.”

For the vote to be legitimate, 2,379 residents — 25 percent of the number of ballots cast in Scarborough in the 2010 gubernatorial election—need to participate in the referendum. If the majority of people vote no, the Town Council’s Oct. 2 decision would be overturned and things would revert back to how they were prior to the vote.

Town Manager Tom Hall said along with the explanatory statement, a full text copy of the animal control ordinance will be available for voters. Neither document, he said, would be handed out or posted in the voting booths.

“Admittedly the ordinance language is complex,” he said. “This will go a long way in a fairly concise manner making sure voters understand what the question means and therefore vote accordingly.”

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