HALLOWELL — Residents advocated for smaller trash cans, extra bags for pet waste and cutting back weeds to help maintain the currently closed dog park at Vaughn Field.

About 25 residents and city officials attended a public meeting Thursday night, more than a week after the Hallowell City Council voted Sept. 9 to close the dog park until the spring.

Public Works Foreman Chris Buck supported the closure, saying it was a health hazard for city employees.

Councilor Michael Frett, who said the dog park was never “conceptualized” as a city-maintained one, said the decision could spur a volunteer committee to take care of it.

Councilor Kate Dufour, who hosted the meeting, said the council made the decision to close the park “not lightly,” and admitted the maintenance system at the park is “not working.”

“We need to find the right combination of who is responsible for what,” she said.

Dufour said she would prepare a report for the full City Council to discuss at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 7. When asked when the park would open again, Dufour said the council would have to vote to reopen the park.

City Council candidate Matthew Radasch asked if the park could be opened before Oct. 7, and Dufour said Mayor Mark Walker could call a special meeting. Walker later said he would not call a meeting.

The dog park’s condition was brought up in a July discussion about trash cans in city parks. Public works previously provided trash cans at Granite City Park and Vaughn Field, but removed them in July 2018 because they were being misused.

Buck said in July trash would overflow over the weekend, when none of the Public Works employees was on duty, and create an eyesore at Granite City Park. Further, the trash can near the dog park at Vaughn Field could be a health hazard because it has been covered in dog waste.

After a resident mentioned dogs were still going into the park and likely defecating, Buck cited a photo of dog feces, copies of which he provided to others before the meeting. The photo depicts dog feces in a northern section of park, behind the fenced-in dog park.

Resident Bill Schecher said the park should use a smaller trash can rather than the larger receptacle that was previously the park. He said if the large can were filled with waste, Public Works would have a tough time lugging it away.

A smaller can, Schecher said, would also discourage people from disposing of household waste.

Schecher also advocated for providing bags for dog waste for those who do not have them, and cleaning up overgrown weeds and shrubs.

“If it looks clean, people are more likely to keep it clean,” he said.

Resident Robert Katz said he takes his dog to the park two or three times a day. He said he disagreed with closing the park, comparing it to closing a street because vehicles do not stop at a crosswalk for pedestrians.

Katz said there was no way to legislate bad behavior for dog park users, but the city should try to provide tools to clean up dog waste.

“The people who don’t clean up after their dogs in dog park won’t clean up after their dogs in the park,” he said. “All we can do is come up with solutions that can help those people who are not being good citizens.”

A resident who declined to give her last name to the Kennebec Journal said it was unclear who managed the dog park, but signs at the park said questions should be routed to City Hall. She said it implies the city may have some responsibility to maintain the park.

Frett said the original group, the Friends of Vaughn Field, that oversaw the creation of the Vaughn Field park conceptualized a volunteer group to maintain the dog park, but never followed through.

He said organizing the volunteer group fell out of the Friends’ focus because there were no problems with the park’s maintenance until now.

While there is some funding for city parks in the budget, Radasch said a voluntary, additional fee at dog registration could be a way to contribute more funding toward dog park maintenance.

Dog feces is prohibited “on or near” public property in Hallowell according to Section 5-119 of Hallowell’s Code of Ordinance.

Further, that ordinance says no person with a dog “shall appear on any (public property) without carrying a tool, implement or other device” for “picking up and containing feces left by that dog.” The penalty for breach of this ordinance is punishable by a penalty “of not less than $50.”

The dog park’s rules state “owner/handler is required to clean up and dispose of dog waste in receptacles provided.”

When asked before the meeting if the removal of trash cans could create a conflict, Frett said even if it did conflict, it does not say to leave feces in the park.

Further, he said, failing to clean up the feces would still be a breach of city ordinance.

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