User-fee dog parks may be on the horizon depending on a feasibility study approved by council yesterday.

Council approved the study to come back next year to explore a user-fee system to fund maintenance in the city’s off-leash dog parks, according to Ald. Brian Pincott.

“Besides more off-leash dog parks, the number one thing people said they wanted was better maintenance so we have to find a way to pay for that,” Pincott said.

Upgrades include, among other things, more garbage cans and dog bag dispensers but Pincott said the fee would be challenging to implement.

“Perhaps we could charge five to ten dollars a year for an extra tag on the dog’s collar, as an example, so we are not charging non-dog owners to use the park.”

Also approved were 15 new off-leash parks to be spread throughout the city by 2011 to ease the burden on what Pincott calls “heavily used” existing parks.

Avid off-leash dog park user Julie Orton brings her black lab to the River Park often, but would not pay a user-fee.

“It’s the responsibility of the dog owners to pick up after themselves and keep the park clean,” Orton said, adding fines against neglectful dog owners should be stricter to pay for costs.

Ald. John Mar suggested city officials look into corporate sponsorships as an option to pay for the maintenance costs.