By Dan Moffett
Dog owners who take their pets to South Palm Beach for a stroll in the surf should be prepared to pay up to $250 for repeat violations of a town ordinance.
The town doesn’t allow dogs on its public beach and last month approved levying some hefty fines on offenders.
For a first violation, police will issue a written warning. The second offense within a calendar year will cost $100. The third and all subsequent violations will draw $250 fines.
“The law has been on the books since 1983,” Mayor Bonnie Fischer said of the prohibition against dogs on the beach. “But there’s been no teeth in it.”
The Town Council hopes that the specter of a $250 fine will deter what has become a growing problem in recent years. Until now, police were empowered only to give verbal warnings and hope violators complied.
During the May 8 town meeting, council members Elvadianne Culbertson and Bill LeRoy argued against keeping penalties too low.
Culbertson dismissed a proposal for $100 fines for serial offenders as “too trivial.” LeRoy said the fines had to sting enough to change behavior.
“We’re not trying to raise money,” he said. “You got to make it severe enough that you stop the action.”
The vote for the $250 fines was 4-1, with the mayor dissenting.
Town Attorney Glen Torcivia said that dog owners who believe they were unfairly fined can appeal to the town’s code enforcement board or to a magistrate. The next line of appeal is the circuit court.
Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan said it’s important that police and town officials do their parts in educating the public about the change.
“I just want to make sure to get the information out there to people,” she said.
In other business:
• Town Manager Mo Thornton said construction on the 3550 South Ocean condominium project was advancing “fairly quickly” and workers were hoping for a topping out party — marking the completion of the building’s structural shell — on June 15.
• The council unanimously approved the hiring of Stormwater J Engineering of West Palm Beach to handle design and analysis duties for sewer repair work. The town’s aging drain system needs a significant overhaul, which could take much of the year to complete, officials say.