BANGOR, Maine — A city subcommittee on Wednesday approved increasing the fine for overtime parking downtown from $10 to $15, but there was substantial debate about whether that change would win full City Council approval.
“A $5 increase on overtime parking is too much,” Council Chairman Gerry Palmer said.
Councilor Hal Wheeler agreed that increasing that particular fine could discourage people from shopping, dining and visiting the downtown.
“The city is never going to make a profit from these fees, so why discourage [potential visitors]?” Wheeler said.
Councilor David Nealley said it’s hard for him to support any fee increases right now.
Still, the Business and Economic Development Committee agreed to send the request to the full council next Wednesday.
One impetus for the proposed change is the new parking garage at Eastern Maine Medical Center. The hospital had leased more than 100 spaces from the city in the Pickering Square garage downtown for employee use. Those employees were then shuttled to EMMC on outer State Street at a substantial cost and inconvenience to the hospital.
When the hospital garage opens early next month, the city will lose that revenue stream — an estimated $115,000 annually — from EMMC. Some of that total will be made up when the new Penobscot County courthouse on Exchange Street opens, but that won’t happen until sometime this fall.
By increasing the overtime fee from $10 to $15, the city would generate an estimated $67,000 annually. City Manager Edward Barrett said that even by adding revenue, the city’s parking fund is not self-sustaining. About $260,000 was appropriated last year from the general fund to support parking infrastructure, and this year the appropriation is more than $300,000.
The overtime parking fee increase was one of three recommendations made recently by the city’s downtown parking advisory committee. Earlier this month, the city approved the two other changes after much less debate.
Beginning July 1, monthly rates for all downtown parking will increase between $3 and $10, depending on the location of the lot. Additionally, the city will reduce the number of courtesy tickets it allows from four to three annually.
The parking debate may not be finished. There was also discussion on Wednesday of revisiting the option of installing parking meters downtown. Barrett has always supported the idea, but said it would require an initial investment by the city.
“It would be nice if we had some meters, just some different options downtown,” Nealley said.
Councilor Rick Bronson, who was not on the council the last time meters were discussed, said he’d be interested in revisiting that debate.
Another downtown parking problem is what to do with repeat parking offenders and downtown businesspeople who use public spaces for work use. One of the things that would help crack down on repeat offenders is hand-held computers for parking attendants, which would facilitate tracking certain vehicles. Again, that would require an investment by the city.
Yet another change that is being considered is the time limit for downtown spots. Wheeler has suggested increasing the time from one hour to 90 minutes. That issue is likely to come before the city in the coming weeks.
“There are always competing demands on downtown parking, so I think it’s one of those things that we’ll constantly be discussing,” Barrett said.