Enfield Voters Back Dog Park Plan

Sunday, March 16, 2014
Enfield — All spending articles easily passed at Town Meeting on Saturday, and residents participated in a lively discussion in support of a proposed dog park.

Voters unanimously approved nearly $5.5 million in overall municipal spending, including water and sewer operations, which are funded by user fees.

“I thought it was a great Town Meeting,” Town Manager Steve Schneider said. “We’re lucky to have some very dedicated individuals that serve on the budget and (Capital Improvement Plan) committees that make my job easy. Enfield is just blessed that way that they spend their time and expertise on Enfield.”

The $5.1 million operating budget is down about 4 percent less from last year because the town is spending less on capital improvement projects.

The town property tax is estimated to increase 10 cents , to $6.24 per $1,000 of assessed value. That would bring a $25 increase — to $1,560 — on a $250,000 home. About a nickel’s worth of the tax increase comes from a warrant article that will place $291,783 into the Capital Improvement Plan Capital Reserve, which residents passed unanimously. Enfield voters approved the f und three years ago, and the town increases the amount it places into the fund each year.

The only item at Saturday’s meeting, which lasted less than four hours, that prompted steady discussion was the proposal to build a dog park in town.

Marcia Herrin, an Enfield resident for about 25 years, has spent the last several months developing a proposal for the dog park, similar to the park in Hartford. The warrant article asked residents if they supported the use of two acres of town-owned land on Route 4A for the park. The nonbinding article passed easily, meaning Herrin will continue her work on the project. Whether it is actually developed is a decision that will be made by the Selectboard.

Many residents supported Herrin and her proposal, including Jo Shelnutt-Melendy, who said she has a 5-year-old dog and can’t run fast enough on the Rail Trail to wear her dog out.

A dog park is not just about the dogs, she said, it’s also about the owners who frequent the park and the people they encounter there.

“It’s really about parks and recreation and having more activity for the community,” Shelnutt-Melendy said to a round of applause.

Chris LeGrand and his girlfriend, Sandra Jones, moved to Enfield from Lebanon last month with their dog Indy (short for Indiana Jones). The proposed dog park played a role in their decision.

Bob Cusick, a member of the Capital Improvement Program Committee, said projects that draw people to the town are beneficial.

“I think anything that highlights the creativity of a town or the quality of life within a town is a very important thing,” Cusick said.

But others had questions. One man asked if the town would purchase insurance for the park, saying the proposal was “one dog fight away from a large liability suit.”

Schneider said the town would want to have the park covered by liability insurance, but said he didn’t think the park would increase the town’s liability all that much and probably wouldn’t affect the town’s policy.

Voter Steven Stancek proposed an amendment that would make the park subject to a town required bond if the Selectboard wished to include one. Schneider said such a bond would be similar to an insurance policy and would allow the town to restore the property if the dog park did not work out.

Herrin said supporters of the park have raised only $300 of the expected $30,000 needed to start a park. Requiring a bond would add complications, Herrin said, and potentially set the project back.

The amendment ultimately failed on a voice vote.

The original warrant article passed with only a handful of opposing votes.

When the meeting was over, Herrin said she will meet with the Selectboard next month to decide how to proceed.

“Now we have to get to work,” Herrin said.

Residents also voted 119-14 to spend $265,000 to lease two one-ton dump trucks and a fully equipped plow, and they voted 110-18 to spend $30,000 to lease a police cruiser. Both articles easily surpassed the required two-thirds majority. Voters also authorized the town to spend $10,000 on engineering studies and permitting to repair the Route 4A Mascoma Lake boat launch parking lot. The money will not pay for the actual paving, and the town will likely bring the issue before voters again next year.

Voters passed all other articles, including those that would raise the income limits for tax exemption for elderly and disabled residents, appropriate $2,000 from the unreserved fund balance to the Cemetery Maintenance Expendable Trust Fund, and accept a 1.5 acre lot on Lovejoy Brook Road.

Residents also gave the town permission to amend the project list for the Tax Incremental Finance district to include culvert replacement on Lovejoy Brook Road and add a new municipal parking lot near the town, police and library buildings.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.