MARCO ISLAND — Pet owners are wagging their tails at the idea of scrapping a user fee at dog parks in Naples and Marco Island.
To fee or not to fee, that was the question raised by officials in both cities in March, seeking to pay for maintenance of the Naples park, dubbed Central Bark, that is in the planning stages, and Marco’s Canine Cove, which opened in December.
“The problem with these parks is it’s easy to get it going, but then you have to maintain it,” said Matt Kragh, a Naples architect and volunteer supporting Central Bark.
Bonita Springs, Collier County and Lee County officials say they are sticking with tax dollars and volunteers to maintain Rover Run in North Naples, Depot leashed dog park in Bonita Springs and dog beach at Lovers Key.
A Naples advisory board suggested City Council consider dog owner registration, as well as fees, for the proposed Central Bark, which is slated for construction on Riverside Circle near Central Avenue as early as this summer.
A week after the Naples proposal, Marco Councilman Jerry Gibson suggested user fees and registration for Marco Island’s dog park, Canine Cove, during a City Council meeting.
He has since changed his mind, he said Friday: “I’ve actually done a 180 on that.”
The ideas of registration and fees aren’t completely off the table in Naples, but Kragh said he hopes an annual fundraiser could raise the anticipated $22,000 annual maintenance costs.
Gibson, an avid supporter of Marco’s dog park since the beginning, had suggested fees should cost more for off-Island people than residents.
“I can’t believe he (Gibson) of all people came up with that,” said Deb Chapman, a lead volunteer in securing Canine Cove.
That was a bad idea, Gibson said last week.
“I realize we are getting off-Island people coming. If they’re getting one tank of gas, stopping at one store ... it’s great,’ he said Friday.
Dog-owner registration proposals in Naples and Marco sprung from concerns about safety and liability. Proof of vaccinations would be required and would entail administrative expenses for the cities.
A Marco opponent to those ideas put his money where his mouth was, Gibson said, by pledging to donate $5,000 each year for maintenance.
A lingering concern about safety exists, but Gibson hopes to address it by working with Marco Island veterinarian Brent Garrison.
“I don’t want to see a dog fight, where someone reaches in to grab a dog and gets a nip, and then, finds out the dog didn’t have shots,” Gibson said.
Attorney Alan Gabriel of the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm Weiss-Serota, which represents the city, advised council last year that Marco’s liability shouldn’t increase in the dog runs.
Garrison is working with Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk to create a pamphlet and a sign to post at the park, educating people about health and safety with vaccinations.
Marco’s dog park is bustling seven days a week with two- and four-legged visitors from all over the country, and sometimes all over the world.
Dog park donations:
Naples: Make checks payable to city of Naples, with Naples Dog Park in the memo line. Mail to Naples Dog Park Fund, c/o Naples Community Services, 280 Riverside Circle, Naples, 34102.
Marco Island: Make your check payable to the city of Marco Island with Canine Cove in the memo line. The address for mailing is: Parks & Recreation Department, c/o Canine Cove, 1361 Andalusia Terrace, Marco Island, 34145.
The recommendation from Garrison is for all dog owners to advise their veterinarians that the dog will be going to a dog park as risks could be higher than when at home
Naples is grappling with the same concerns, but raising money for construction remains paramount to their project, dog park supporters say.
The Naples project will cost considerably more than Marco’s because the lot, located off Goodlette-Frank Road, doesn’t have water, sidewalks and other infrastructure that was pre-existing with the park on the Marco site.
Fences for Marco’s dog runs, shade areas, fountains and other park amenities were constructed in the existing Mackle Park on Andalusia Terrace at a cost of about $35,000 using only private donations. So far, nearly $60,000 has been raised, Milk said.
The Marco Island City Council put $25,000 in the budget for building Canine Cove, but it hasn’t been used or distributed, Milk said.
Recent fears among dog lovers about whether donations were going to the dogs are subsiding.
Donors to the park were concerned about a written statement by City Manager Steve Thompson on March 26 that Canine Cove donations would be used to offset current revenue shortfalls in other recreation programs.
That was merely a misstatement, Thompson said.
“No funds donated to the Canine Cove are used to offset any shortfall,” he wrote in an e-mail Monday.
The money will remain in an account for future projects and expenses at Canine Cove exclusively, Thompson said.
The surplus has people wondering if user fees are really needed on Marco Island, where Milk said $5,000 has been spent on maintenance so far.
Naples’ dog park supporters hope to garner enough support to get into Marco’s enviable situation, Kragh said.
They’re getting close, he added.
Central Bark is to include fenced space for small and large dogs, sidewalks and water fountains, similar to amenities at Canine Cove.
The projected cost is about $205,000, and the group behind the park hopes to raise it all with private funding, plus some extra for maintenance.
They could build a basic park for about half the price, but Kragh said he hopes they don’t have to piecemeal the project.
So far, $60,000 has been raised.
Joan Toben, a member of the well-known Naples’ Fleischmann family and owner of Neapolitan Enterprises, is among the lead proponents of the park, donating $25,000 in seed money, Kragh said.
“None of this would be an issue if someone would just donate a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Kragh said and laughed.