SCARBOROUGH – As the special vote on a new, town-wide leash law nears, the person behind its passage, Councilor Richard Sullivan, says he wants to convene a special workshop regardless of the result.

Sullivan, elected to the chairman’s role at the Nov. 20 council meeting as its most senior member, said at that session that he wants to hold a 6 p.m. workshop before the regular council meeting on Dec. 4, the day after the vote. If the town-wide leash law enacted by the council in a 5-2 vote on Oct. 2 is upheld, Sullivan said he wants to start the ball rolling on creating dog parks in town where dogs can run off leash.

However, if the citizen-initiated repeal is successful, Sullivan said the council would need to look into how it might pay a $12,000 fine assessed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That fine was dropped to $500 in return for a number of concessions made by the town following the killing of an endangered piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach July on 15.

Among those concessions was an end to allowing dogs to be off-leash on municipal beaches in town from sunrise to 9 a.m. between June 15 to Sept. 15, as allowed under the former animal control ordinance. However, Sullivan initiated an amendment that advanced the leash law by several orders of magnitude, make it a year-round requirement on all public property.

Previously, there was no municipal leash requirement anywhere in town expect beaches, and even that rule was not in force from Sept. 16 to June 14.

“There’s been a little bit of a misconception that we want to open the whole town of Scarborough up to dogs running wildly 24 hours a day. That’s simply just not true,” said Katy Foley, chairperson of Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough, an advocacy group that petitioned to overturn Sullivan’s ordinance update. The group has since organized as a political action committee to wage the fight more formally.

“We get that not everybody loves dogs the way that we do,” said Foley. “We get that there are some irresponsible dog owners out there not obeying the current ordinance and not controlling their pets. We want it very clear that we do understand there may be more work to do on this ordinance in the future, and we welcome an opportunity to participate in those conversations. But at this point, we really felt like we had no choice but to push forward with the campaign to overturn the overly restrictive ordinance.”

In a Nov. 24 email, Sullivan circulated “important facts” of his own, noting that there are 778 acres of public property in Scarborough that can be used to create parks where dogs can run off leash.

“The people sponsoring the referendum to reverse our recent leash ordinance are claiming that creating dog parks will be necessary and expensive. Neither is the case,” he wrote, indicating that space can be reserved for dog use without the creation of an active dog park.

“Scarborough has an abundance of public places for dogs to be off-leash and voters should be aware that the Ordinance Committee still has work to complete the process of designating spaces for off-leash use, including our beaches, and the Town Council has already set in motion plans to promptly complete that work,” wrote Sullivan.

Sullivan went on to write that the town “will risk a fine of $12,000 and the risk of expensive litigation to contest the fine,” if voters do overturn the leash law. Other costs presumably incurred in the federal agreement are non-existent, said Sullivan, noting that “a piping plover coordinator already exists on our Community Services staff, and we expect to collaborate with Prouts Neck, which has allocated funds toward plover protection.

“We took all of these considerations into account in our effort to provide residents with a balanced leash ordinance,” wrote Sullivan.

Absentee ballots are available now at Town Hall and may be requested in person or through the mail until Nov. 27. Voting on Tuesday, Dec. 3, will take place from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. at town hall. Any absentee ballots obtained before Nov. 27 may be returned up until closing of the polls.

What voters will see on their ballots may seem confusing to some. Based on the requirements of the town charter, the referendum question asks voters if they want to approve the council’s Oct. 2 vote to update the town’s animal control ordinance.

That change requires that dogs be kept on a leash when on any public property, including streets, sidewalks, beaches and wooded areas. The mandate is year-round, with the only exceptions being for hunting dogs when at work, or when in “specially designated areas,” which have yet to be created. Previously, the only formal leash requirement in town apart from state law was a restriction on municipal beaches from 9 a.m. to sunset, which lasted only from June 15 to Sept. 15.

Given the ballot language, a “no” vote would be to repeal the new rules, which the town has not yet tried to enforce, given the petition drive. Although many residents, based on the 2,743 signatures turned in, may be going to the polls to overturn the vote, a “yes” vote would uphold it.

The council did agree to have a primer posted in the town clerk’s office through the election explaining what each vote means. A notice also will be posted at the entrance to Council Chambers B, where voting will take place on Dec. 3, although residents will not be able to take that explanation into the voting booths.

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