Dogs banned from play areas

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth City Council voted Monday to prohibit pets in the new playground areas of Putnam Park and the 14th Street park.

The council agreed in March to buy new playground equipment for the two locations, along with rubber mulch to cushion falls. Kathy Bailey, city administrator, said the equipment is expected to arrive this week, but it might not be installed until June because of necessary prep work.

On Monday, Bailey reviewed the ordinances that govern pets. They must be leashed, and owners are required to clean up after their pets’ defecation. A $50 fine is imposed for violations, but if a case goes through the courts, a judge can order a $300 fine.

Councilman Glenn Gaylord proposed keeping pets away from playground areas. If they are allowed in, they could urinate or defecate in the mulch “where little kids are rolling around.” He also worried that youngsters might want to play with someone else’s pet, walk up and get bit by a startled animal.

Gaylord proposed posting signs to keep animals out of the mulched areas.

“That particular area, I just don’t think there should be dogs in there,” he said.

Posting signs might not solve the problem, noted Mayor Rick Scholtes.

“Most pet owners clean up after their pets,” he said, “but we can’t control strays. The strays can’t read.”

Councilwoman Chelsey Haase is a mother of young children and a dog owner.

“I don’t need other people’s dogs by my kids,” she said.

The discussion was expanded to include the dog pound.

“I just feel we’ve lost all control with that,” Gaylord said.

Huisman said a committee is talking with governmental agencies, but he wants more time to see if it can come up with a solution. Gaylord expressed support for the committee, but said he doesn’t like the current agreement with the Faribault County Humane Society, which is in effect until the end of the year. Scholtes asked Huisman to meet with the Humane Society to discuss the agreement.

“We need a new [shelter]; that’s my opinion,” said Councilman John Gartzke.

Turning to another topic, the council decided to move forward with an expansion to the Faribault County Fitness Center, and go with a design-build method for the bidding process, not to exceed $625,000.

Michelle Hall, director of the Fitness Center, answered questions and explained how much more room is needed at the facility.

Huisman asked if a collaboration with the school has been considered.

Hall said it was brought up four or five years ago, but “we didn’t go into detail.”

“A collaboration would be good, but the project needs to be started,” said Councilman Dan Brod.

“We gotta get rolling this year,” Gartzke agreed.

Hall said United Hospital District refers patients for physical therapy, but some can’t get to the second floor weight room, so “we can’t help them.”

Gaylord was concerned the city would over-extend itself financially with all the other projects it is financing, and questioned whether the revenue from the Fitness Center could pay for the expansion, but Fitness Center board members Joe Fering and David Lein said the revenue would come with the expansion.

“We’re not tapping into potential,” said Fering, naming groups of people not being serviced. The reason, he said, is “it’s full right now.”

Fering said personal training would be possible with the expansion, creating more options for revenue.

“Everything’s moving toward prevention,” said Huisman, “and the health care system is only gonna grow.”

“If we can pay for this with the revenue, it’s a good thing for the city,” Gaylord said.

“With the building we have, we’re stuck,” Scholtes stated.

The council approved moving ahead with the expansion on a vote of 6-1; Brod cast the dissenting vote.