Bangor council moves toward privatizing downtown parking

Bangor Police parking enforcement officer Marcia McGrath places a courtesy ticket on the windshield of a car parked on Harlow Street while making her rounds in downtown Bangor on Wednesday morning, May 18, 2011. McGrath and three other parking enforcement officers might lose their jobs if the Bangor City Council votes for a proposal by Republic Parking to take over management of downtown on-street parking enforcement. McGrath has worked as a parking enforcement officer for five years.
Bangor Police parking enforcement officer Marcia McGrath places a courtesy ticket on the windshield of a car parked on Harlow Street while making her rounds in downtown Bangor on Wednesday morning, May 18, 2011. McGrath and three other parking enforcement officers might lose their jobs if the Bangor City Council votes for a proposal by Republic Parking to take over management of downtown on-street parking enforcement. McGrath has worked as a parking enforcement officer for five years.
Posted May 18, 2011, at 7:20 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The four part-time city employees whose job it is to enforce downtown parking laws may have the most thankless jobs in Bangor.

Soon they may lose those jobs to technology.

City councilors gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a proposal that would turn over the majority of downtown parking enforcement duties from the Police Department to a private management firm that would employ a more automated system.

Councilors stopped short of full approval, however, until they have a better sense of the budgetary impact and a better understanding of just how the city will let go of four part-time employees.

“I like these four employees,” Councilor Rick Bronson said. “They are much less problematic than some other municipal employees.”

Other councilors suggested severance packages for the workers if the switch is made or ensuring that they are properly retrained for another job in another city department or elsewhere.

“I see these four employees as the ambassadors of downtown,” Councilor Charlie Longo said.

Community and Economic Development Director Rod McKay outlined the proposal by Republic Parking that would shift parking enforcement responsibilities away from the four part-time Police Department employees. Under the plan, one full-time Republic Parking employee would assume duties and would use a vehicle outfitted with cameras and other technology to streamline the parking ticket-writing process.

Republic Parking, a Tennessee-based firm, has been managing the city’s municipal parking garages and lots for nearly 15 years and first presented its downtown parking proposal to the city last fall.

McKay said if Bangor turns over downtown parking management to Republic Parking, it would save money through reduced personnel costs and increased efficiencies. In the first year, the operational costs would be reduced by $17,000, although there would be some initial one-time investments on the city’s part. In subsequent years, costs could drop even lower, McKay said.

“The real benefit of the proposal is to improve parking enforcement and to make more parking available,” he told councilors.

Downtown parking problems long have plagued the city and are likely only to get worse as the downtown continues to attract more visitors. Councilors and city staff have made numerous changes in recent years, but problems persist, particularly among a handful of parking scofflaws who routinely beat the system.

“We are continuously looking for ways to better the situation, but we don’t have a good source of data to know if the changes we’ve made have made a difference,” McKay said.

Republic’s proposal includes computerized software to keep track of scofflaws, something the Police Department cannot do easily at the moment.

Police Chief Ron Gastia, who oversees the four downtown parking enforcement employees, said Wednesday that it was difficult for him to find a downside to the proposal, but he, too, worried about how his employees would be affected. All four parking enforcement officers attended Wednesday’s meeting, but none spoke.

Although councilors were generally supportive of the proposal by Republic Parking, they still wanted to see how it might play out in the 2011-12 proposed budget. Finance Director Debbie Cyr told councilors that they likely could make the transition in a way that would not affect the budget drastically.

Councilors could make a more definitive decision before passage of the 2011-12 budget or they could delay action until sometime in the next fiscal year.

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