BANGOR, Maine — City councilors gave preliminary approval this week to a series of changes to parking fees in downtown Bangor, in large part to make up for revenue lost when Eastern Maine Medical Center’s new parking garage opens.
The changes, approved by members of the Business and Economic Development Committee, still need final approval by the City Council later this month or early next month, but essentially they would do three things:
ä Increase the overtime parking fee from $10 to $15.
ä Increase monthly parking lot fees from between $3 and $10, depending on the location downtown.
ä Reduce the number of courtesy or free tickets the city allows from four to three a year.
In general, councilors approved of the changes that were recommended by the city’s downtown parking advisory committee, although the overtime parking fee passed narrowly and may face more debate in the coming weeks.
The change from $10 to $15 would result in an extra $67,000 in annual revenue for the city, or just over half of the estimated $115,000 that will be lost when EMMC pulls out of the Pickering Square parking garage. The hospital now leases spaces for its employees and shuttles them from downtown to the campus on State Street.
Councilor Hal Wheeler supported both the lot fee increases and the courtesy ticket reduction but did not support the overtime parking fee change, calling it a “drastic increase for a pretty small return.”
Council Chairman Gerry Palmer also did not support that change, saying the $5 increase was too drastic and might deter people from visiting downtown Bangor.
The other two changes were less divisive among councilors, but there was still plenty of debate, as there usually is when parking issues surface.
Councilor Pat Blanchette questioned the city’s practice of allowing courtesy tickets at all, saying that it encourages people to take advantage of the system.
“We’re bending over backwards to please a few,” she said.
City Manager Edward Barrett admitted that Bangor loses money by allowing courtesy tickets, but he also said he receives considerably fewer calls and e-mails from angry visitors.
Most agreed that Bangor’s policy of courtesy tickets is attractive to visitors, but has become a problem for downtown employees who are abusing the city’s leniency.
Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick, the council’s representative on the downtown parking advisory committee, said going from four courtesy tickets to three was an easy and gradual step down. It will not solve the problem of people abusing the system, he acknowledged.
The final recommended change, which would increase all monthly rates for downtown parking lots, also passed through the city subcommittee but could face additional debate at the full council level.
The fees would increase by $3 in some areas, such as the roof of the Pickering Square garage, and by as much as $10 in the lower Hammond Street parking deck. Monthly rates in downtown lots currently range from $27 to $67.
Among the concerns about those increases was whether patrons will pay more for the spaces in this economy.
Councilors are expected to discuss all three recommendations further before voting on them officially. If passed, the changes would go into effect on July 1.