Wollongong City Council’s foreshore rangers have fined dog owners nearly $55,000 during their first six months on the job.
But the new enforcement team will have to more than triple these fines in the next six months if they want to make back their costs, with ratepayers forking out $205,000 for the three-ranger team.
Figures obtained by the Mercury show all but four of the foreshore rangers’ fines have been aimed at enforcing the council’s controversial dogs on beaches rules.
Changes to dogs on beaches rules sparked months of heat debate and public protests in 2014, after which councillors voted – in late 2015 – to employ three new part time “foreshore rangers” across seven days all year.
With changing shift start times, they perhaps hoped to bamboozle those who thought they could get away with letting dogs roam free in the wrong areas.
The team’s main focus was to be out-of-place pups, but they were also tasked to enforce other “foreshore matters” like illegal parking in beach car parks and fishermen’s litter.
A breakdown of fines from July 2016-January 8 shows the most common fine was for dog owners being in a prohibited public place, with 44 people fined $330 each (a total of $14,520). 26 people were issued the same fine for being in charge of a dog in a prohibited place.
Forty-two people were fined $220 each for not having their dog on a leash, and 25 people were fined for being in charge of a dog not under control.
Twenty-six fines were issued for non-dangerous dogs not wearing a collar or name tag, and one person was fined $275 for not picking up their dog’s poo.
Among these fines was a whopping $1700 bill for one Sydney family, who received seven separate fines for one out-of-bounds incident in November.
The family claimed they were approached by a group of five rangers, and protested when the rangers told them they were in the wrong area due to “confusing” signs at the entry to the beach.
Outside of dog related offences, the foreshore rangers issued four fines of $541 each to people stopping in disabled parking areas.
Despite the large number of fines issued to beach-going dog owners, it seems the rangers efforts may have little effect on the rising number of serious dog attacks in the city.
According to a council spokeswoman “the number of dog attacks that occur on beaches and in off-leash areas is small”: only 26 in 2014/15 and 25 in 2015/16.
“The overwhelming majority of dog attacks occurred within private property, outside of the dog’s residence or on a road/footpath area.”