City of Steamboat now levying a $75 fine for dogs at large
Flat fine aims to simplify the process for dog owners who want to pay tickets without going before municipal court
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In Steamboat Springs, getting caught with a dog off-leash in illegal areas now carries a $75 fine.
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, the Steamboat Springs City Council granted final approval to an ordinance that levies a flat fine of $75 for an animal-at-large citation and $25 for unlicensed pets. The change will take effect Friday.
The city currently has five designated off-leash areas: Rita Valentine Park, Whistler Park, Lower Spring Creek Trail and Ponds and Butcherknife Trail. Outside of these areas and the Yampa River, it is illegal to have a dog off-leash, which is considered an animal at large under city code.
Previously, animal at large citations resulted in a $50 fine for first-time offenders, a $75 fine for the second offense and a $100 fine for any additional offenses. Fines for animals without a pet license increased in a similar fashion, from $25 to $50 to $100.
The Parks and Recreation Commission, an advisory board to City Council, recommended the city increase fines for these two animal-related offenses.
That means the new, flat fine will increase the fine for first-time offenders who have pets off leash, but the fine remains the same or smaller for repeat offenders. For that reason, the city doesn’t anticipate the change in fee structure will change city revenue.
“We don’t expect the revenue to the city to change,” said Jennifer Bock, a staff attorney for the city.
Dog law in Steamboat has seen a number of changes this year.
It started when the city tried to remedy a hiccup between software systems that meant it wasn’t able to track repeat offenders to levy the appropriate fines.
Steamboat Springs Police Department officers aren’t able to see a person’s municipal court convictions in the field, so they weren’t able to write the appropriate fine on the citation they handed to pet owners. If a repeat offender paid their ticket at City Hall, they paid the lower, first-time offense fine. To remedy this, in February, the city required every person cited for having an animal at-large or an unlicensed pet to go before the municipal court judge.
That did two things:
- People who wanted to accept the conviction and pay their fine still had to go to municipal court.
- All the animal-related offenses weighed on the municipal court docket.
In one of the municipal court’s bi-monthly sessions in June, 24 of the 52 cases on the docket were animal-at-large cases, and in a June memo to City Council, City Attorney Dan Foote said it increased the municipal prosecutor’s workload as more defendants wanted to negotiate a plea bargain.
As a temporary fix, the city approved an ordinance in August that allowed violators to pay their fine by speaking to the municipal court clerk, who looked up their prior convictions and levied the appropriate fine.
The flat fine is intended to be a permanent fix.
“We’re trying to make it easier,” Bock said. “The officers will be able to write that amount on everybody’s tickets, and then they (pet owners) will be able to come into municipal court and pay that ticket, just like you would be able to pay a speeding ticket. When I say court, I mean they can come into City Hall and pay our clerk, without having to show up for a court date, so it should make the process go a lot smoother and more efficiently.”
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