City Council in Dog House Over Holland Park
FlaglerLive | January 19, 2011
The Palm Coast city government has $10 million to build a new city hall for itself, yet it claims to have no money to spend improving the city’s most popular park.
Steve McLaughlin remembers attending a city meeting two and a half years ago about planned improvements for Holland Park, the city’s busiest, particularly its dog park.
“They were supposed to start in the following year. And nothing has been done so far. So we’re a little concerned about this,” McLaughlin told the Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday (Jan. 18). There was to be a walkway from the gate to the pavilion for elderly and handicapped people, lights at the top and the bottom of the park, and the park was going to be better maintained. “We’d like to have some maintenance on the park besides coming in and just blowing the dust around. The grass is getting thinner and thinner. I’ve got a light-colored apricot dog, and every time I take her down there I’ve got to bathe her after that, because she’s turned gray. Nothing but dirt.”
McLaughlin is right: the fenced-in dog park’s grounds have more in common with a monster truck bog than grassy knolls, though the dogs don’t seem to mind. But that wasn’t all. McLaughlin went on: “I find it offensive that people don’t pick up after their dogs. If you confront them you could almost get into a battle over it, so it kind of goes its merry way. The city doesn’t do too much about that. Nobody comes in to enforce the code about picking up dog poop. But they evidently are going to do it about smoking.”
The smoking matter has several dog-park users concerned. As some residents put it, the city got a letter—a single letter—from a resident complaining about smokers, so the city installed signs and banned smoking in that area and the nearby pavilion. “If we’re going to spend money, let’s spend money on doing improvements and make it accessible to all individuals under ADA, not on non smoking because one citizen complained,” resident Susan Jones told the council. She was referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her suggestion: create designated non-smoking areas.
But it isn’t that simple. City policy has it that any area with restricted activity—any enclosed, fenced-in, demarcated area, indoors or outdoors—is to be a non-smoking area. At the dog park, the city was merely catching up when it installed the non-smoking sign. People are free to smoke anywhere else in the park that’s not delineated.
Poor maintenance, however, is not in question. A third resident addressing the council—one who’s been in the city 25 years and has watched its numerous improvements, including at Holland Park—noted that people have simply given up cleaning up after their dogs because the surroundings are so run down that the city appears to be shrugging its shoulders at the problem.
To Celeste Bowker, who was there with her husband Michael and two dogs–Roxy and Molly–late Tuesday afternoon, and aside from the mess some people leave behind, the dog park is fine, like a bar without the booze, with all sorts of regulars gathering there at set times and days of the week. “I found a whole new group of friends here,” Bowker said. “We mainly know people by their dogs’ names–oh, there’s Roxy’s mom.”
When it was the city council members’ (and the administration’s) turn to speak, residents were told gently that the no-new-taxes chicken are coming home to roost: you get what you pay for, in other words.
The city does have an ambitious long-term plan for its parks. “I am very, very skeptical that we will have the funds to implement that plan in the future,” Mayor Jon Netts said. The reason: there’s no money to fund it. And there’s no money to fund the plan because the council won’t raise taxes.
“Everybody recalls we held the millage rate constant this year,” City Manager Jim Landon said. “One of the ways we held the millage rate constant was we didn’t place any of the property tax millage or property tax dollars into our capital improvement fund. That was a decision this year to keep the taxes down. It’s that fund that’s used to make Holland Park renovations. So it’s one of those projects that got delayed.”
That assessment, too, is not as simple as it sounds, and is somewhat disingenuous. The city chose to keep its taxes low. But it does have capital dollars aplenty: it’s choosing to divert them to build a city hall for $10 million. Landon didn’t mention that—nor would he, considering the sensitive nature of the matter: most residents are opposed to the city hall project. Most would likely not be opposed to renovations of their favorite park.
Netts didn’t mention the city hall project, either, but he recognizes where residents’ priorities (as opposed to the city’s) are. “I will reiterate that I would like to see us do something to improve conditions there in a fashion that won’t have to be torn out as if and when Holland Park is rejuvenated, rebuilt, rehabilitated,” Netts said.
Landon said the grass has trouble growing there because the well supplying the park’s water is too salty. But, he conceded, the place “is a popular park, it does need to be upgraded, so we are working on what can we do now within the limited funds we have.” It’s not clear what those improvements will be: Landon directed residents to give their wish lists to his parks and recreation director.
The matter didn’t end there. Other city council members, quiet throughout the Holland Park discussion, did raise one issue of concern.
“On the pooping scooping whatever it is,” Bill lewis said, “we have something that says that you must go behind your pet and scoop up their whatever they let out, but it’s not enforceable. So if it’s not enforceable, why is it on the books?”
“Is that a rhetorical question or is that a—?” Netts asked.
“That’s a question to answer,” Lewis said.
“For myself,” Netts said, “you keep it on the books because that’s what people should do and are supposed to do. There are many ordinances many laws and regulations where you have to depend on the virtue of the resident to obey.”
“If somebody sees the dog’s poop not being scooped, then that’s enforceable if you’ve got an eyewitness. Same as a speeding ticket,” Holsey Moorman, another city council member, said.
“Only when one of our own code enforcement or animal control officers are there to witness the event and try to enforce it,” Frank Meeker, the third council member to weigh in on waste, said. “Citizens trying to enforce it on another citizen is not exactly what we’re looking for.”
Netts was relieved to end the discussion, though not much later Meeker, whose jokes—like his ideas—pinball between the clever and the arcane, couldn’t resist ending the meeting with the year’s second-worst pun (the worst being in this story’s headline): “You’re all pooped and ready to go home.”