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29

Nov 2019

***Barking Mad Over Off-Leash Dog Park Budget Cuts***

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The Winnipeg Network of Dog Owner Groups was one of over forty delegations that appeared at City Hall on Wednesday to protest proposed budget cuts.

WINDOG President, Donna Henry told the Committee on Protection, Community Services and Parks that the coalition of dog park stewardship groups is alarmed that after spending $100,000 to develop an off-leash area master plan (OLAMP), the City has no plans to implement it. There is no funding for dog parks in either Parks and Open Space’s operations or capital budgets.

The off-leash area master plan is a framework for creating and managing dog parks to meet the growing demand for well-designed off-leash areas with quality amenities in a sustainable manner. Council approved the plan in 2018.

Henry warned that stewardship groups in established dog parks, groups waiting for their own neighbourhood dog parks, and individual dog owners who participated in the development of the dog park master plan are more than disappointed; they are angry.

The master plan states,

“The City will establish a budget line to support capital investment in the establishment and enhancement of off-leash areas…and will establish additional operating budget resources for their management…”

In its 2019 operating budget Parks and Open Space requested increases to meet new OLAMP service level standards. Parks also requested a $300,000 increase in its capital budget in each of the next 6 years to upgrade existing dog parks and create new ones. Council referred the request to the 2020 budget.

The North End and Point Douglas, areas of the city that have the highest dog license density are identified in the master plan as having the greatest need for dog parks is the greatest. There are no off-leash areas in either of these neighbourhoods. And entire wards like Ft. Rouge-East Fort Garry and most neighbourhoods in south-west Winnipeg do not have a single off-leash dog park.

Henry reminded the committee that dog park advocates in Point Douglas, the North End and at St. Vital’s King George V Park have been asking for a neighbourhood dog park for years. Champions have appealed to their ward councillors and made presentations to community committees, EPC, and city council.

And for years they have heard the same message at every level – “Be patient. Wait until the off-leash area master plan is complete. There will be a process in place for creating new dog parks. And there will be funding to create and maintain them.”

Now, not only is there no funding for dog parks in the 2020 budgets, there’s none in 2021 through 2025. Henry says Council’s failure to fund off-leash areas sends a clear message that dog parks remain its lowest priorities.

While the City has made large investments dog parks in the past two years – between $500,000 and $700,000 for Bonnycastle and $1.75 million for Brenda Leipsic, neither the investments nor the dog parks themselves were the result of the master plan. Bonnycastle was the result of Mayor Bowman’s 2014 election promise to create a downtown dog park and Brenda Leipsic Dog Park was the result of bus rapid transit.

Brenda Leipsic Dog Park was not funded by Parks, the division responsible for off-leash areas. It was funded by Transit through the P3 South West Rapid Transitway Project. The federal and provincial governments covered over 60% of the cost of purchasing land from MB Hydro; the City covered less than 40%.  River Heights-Fort Garry Councillor John Orlikow pledged an additional $250,000 for dog park amenities through a Land Dedication Reserve grant.

Well-appointed, well-managed dog parks make Winnipeg a vibrant, healthy place where people want to live, work and visit. But the City has not spent a dime of tax-based capital funding in its established off-leash areas – not even the first ones, created over two decades ago.

In the face of declining resources, Parks relies increasingly on volunteer stewardship groups to provide labour for park maintenance. And – in the absence of capital funding – stewardship groups have taken over fundraising for off-leash area improvements.

Henry said, “It’s outrageous that Winnipeggers are relying on election promises, bus rapid transit projects, grants, and the good will of elected officials and volunteers to fund dog parks. Offloading park maintenance and capital improvements onto volunteers is not sustainable. Parks and Open Space needs secure, tax-supported capital funding. There’s no security in a dog park budget that’s deferred whenever it’s expedient to do so.”

And she echoed other delegations, reminding councillors that this is a historic moment. The kind of city Winnipeg will become depends on elected officials looking beyond their own 4-year terms, beyond the Mayor’s insistence on cuts and closures.

WINDOG urges city council to do the right thing; increase Parks 2020 capital budget for OLAMP by $300,000 and maintain the funding over the four years of the multi-year budget. Funding the OLAMP sends a strong message. It says that creating an off-leash area master plan was not a costly, hollow exercise. It says that the master plan will not be just another planning document gathering dust in municipal archives.

The Standing Policy Committee meets again on December 4 to consider recommendations on the Multi-Year Budget (2020-2023). WINDOG urges Winnipeg dog lovers to speak up for dog parks. Contact Mayor Bowman (mayor@winnipeg.ca) and ward councillors and demand that the City increase funding off-leash dog parks – beginning  in 2020.

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