WINSLOW — A new town dog ordinance is on its way toward passage after the Town Council on Tuesday night voted to approve the first reading of the rules after questioning the police chief about it.

Police Chief Shawn O’Leary worked on the proposed changes with Town Manager Michael Heavener after a dog attack on Aug. 30 that injured one woman and killed her Boston terrier.

“After (that incident), I took a look at the ordinance and you could tell it was kind of outdated, and it needed to be updated,” O’Leary told the council at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

O’Leary said he worked with the town’s animal control officer, Chris Martinez, to look at other towns’ ordinances on dangerous dogs. He used those and the state statute as a base for the proposed ordinance.

According to the state, a dangerous dog is a dog that bites a person or an animal that isn’t trespassing or acting aggressively, as well as a dog that causes people or animals to fear “imminent bodily injury.” A dog is declared dangerous by a court of law.

The Maine Municipal Association does not keep track of how many towns have dangerous dog ordinances, though it does have an information packet on dogs and animals. Eric Conrad, director of communications for the association, said that while some towns are looking into this issue, not many are.

“Dangerous dogs and animals have been in the news off and on, both nationally and here in Maine,” Conrad said in an emailed statement. “When these concerns come up, people go to their local officials and look for something to be done.”

The current ordinance says no one can keep a noisy or vicious dog that disturbs people’s “peace and quiet” in town, and if the police chief finds such a dog, he can give a notice to the owner requiring the dog to be quieted, removed or destroyed. The minimum fine is $5 and the maximum is $20.

Under the proposed ordinance, the minimum fine would be $500 and the maximum would be $1,000. At the meeting, O’Leary said the change was not intended to increase revenue for the town but rather to show the public that the police are serious about the issue.

The proposed ordinance also requires owners of a dangerous dog to have at least $300,000 in liability insurance. When questioned by Councilor Jerry Quirion about where the figure came from, O’Leary said he looked at multiple towns’ ordinances, including those of Waterville, Hallowell and Oakland, and found that Monmouth and Livermore both required owners of dangerous dogs to have $300,000 in liability insurance.

The ordinance also would require those who move to Winslow with a dangerous dog to notify the animal control officer. Quirion asked how the police would know if someone with a dangerous dog moved into Winslow.

O’Leary said that dog owners are supposed to register their dogs in the towns they live in anyway, and when they come to the Town Office to do that, the police would provide them with information about the requirements for dangerous dogs, if the ordinance passes. If someone were to ignore the requirements, they would risk eventually getting fined.

“Also, by state law, every veterinarian is supposed to send rabies vaccination records to the town,” Martinez said.

The town can then check these records against its records of registered dogs. Martinez said he uses this process to notify people that they have a certain number of days to register their dogs or they will get fined, and he would include information about dangerous dog requirements in the future if the changes go into effect.

When pressed further about how police really would be able to know about the dangerous dogs in town, Martinez said there will always be undocumented dogs out there.

“There’s a lot of undocumented animals within the towns of Winslow and Waterville, and the state,” he said. “We have residents who don’t follow the law, obviously.”

Councilor Ken Fletcher noted that a dog is declared dangerous through a court process, so there would be a court record at the state level as well.

“I would also like to add that if the dog bites again after being declared dangerous, the owner commits a class D crime,” Martinez said.

Councilor Raymond Caron asked how many dangerous dogs are in Winslow, to the knowledge of Martinez and O’Leary. Martinez said there is one.

Caron also said he was contacted by some residents before the meeting who would like a chance to speak before the Town Council on the issue.

“I think it would be prudent, if possible, to let some of the citizens speak about their feelings,” he said. No one at the meeting Tuesday night stepped forward to speak.

The council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of the ordinance, which will require passage of a second reading before it goes into effect.

In other business, the council voted 7-0 on the first reading of an order to allow Heavener to sign an agreement with the Vassalboro Sewer District that allows it to connect with the Winslow sewer system, sending its waste to the Kennebec Sanitary District to get treated.

“This has been a long time in the making,” Heavener said. The agreement is for 50 years, primarily because of the cost, and also because the infrastructure for the project will have a 50-year lifespan, Heavener said. The project could generate $20,000 per year in revenue for Winslow.

Engineer Richard Green, of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, the firm working on the project, told the council there is a preliminary layout, and they hope to lay the pipe within the next year.

The council also voted on the second reading of a proposal to rezone 259 China Road from a high-density residential district to a mixed-used district, which would allow a business to be built on the property. A public hearing, which generated no comments, was held on the issue before the meeting began. Councilors voted 7-0 to approve the change.

The first reading of a proposed change to the town’s street ordinance that would require sidewalks only on urban connector roads and limit the use of private roads was approved, 7-0, with the condition that the sidewalk committee take the changes back to the Planning Board for review. The changes began with the former public works director and the former code enforcement officer, Heavener said, but got set aside when they left. Elery Keene, chairman of the Planning Board, said the board hasn’t seen the changes yet and would like to be able to comment on them before a second reading.

Quirion also suggested ending the town’s fireworks ban, given the recent rainfall in the area. He said he’s received complaints from a local fireworks seller.

“I would advise against it. Matter of fact, the severe drought has been extended further north,” Councilor Steve Russell said. “I think you’ll find that 1 inch of rain we got on Sunday will be gone pretty quickly.”

No other councilors have received complaints. The council voted not to approve to lift the ban, 1-6, with Quirion voting in favor.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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