Caribou council delays decision on sale of parking lots; committee will discuss lots Monday

Posted Aug. 19, 2013, at 5:35 a.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — Monday night’s City Council Meeting was once again filled with folks interested to learn more about the fate of the municipally owned parking lots in the downtown area.

In mid-July, the city put seven municipally-owned parking lots out to bid — both parking lots of the Downtown Mall, those at 7 and 37 Hatch Drive, 6 Water St. and the lot behind the American Legion. The combined lots total about 330 parking spaces. Business owners were granted a meeting with the council on July 23 to air their displeasure about the sale, and a few took the opportunity during the Aug. 12 meeting to stress the impact selling the parking lots would have on local businesses.

Robert Huston, American Legion Post 15 Commander, was one of the individuals expressing their concerns.

“I just wanted to make our difficulties known to the council, because we kind of mirror what the city of Caribou is. Our population is down, our membership is down; our expenses are up, our income is down,” he explained, asking the councilors to think twice about selling the parking. “It’s going to really make a tremendous impact on our post home, and as we get older, perhaps we’re going to need this more.”

While a discussion on the city owned parking lots was on the meeting’s agenda, councilors tabled the discussion until the next meeting Monday, Sept. 9, but a workshop for the Highway Protection Committee will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19 to discuss the parking lots.

Councilor David Martin received clarification from City Manager Austin Bleess that Caribou did not receive any bids for the parking lots.

Martin reiterated that those parking lots were given to the city and explained that he’s not interested in making a whole lot of money on the deal, “I just don’t think we should be maintaining them — just for the fairness issue.”

Mayor Gary Aiken agreed that Martin’s point should be part of the discussion during the workshop, “what can be done and what we can do here to make it fair to everyone,” he said.

A small portion of the meeting was spent discussing the parking lots — as more discussions will be forthcoming — but Councilor Kenneth Murchison expressed his opinion before the agenda item passed.

“We met in a meeting with the City Council of Presque Isle last week, and I can’t remember which councilor suggested that any business in the county is good for the whole county. So I would suggest that any business in Caribou is good not only for the county, but the city of Caribou,” he said. “Now a fraction of one percent of our entire budget goes into maintaining these parking lots, which is a small price to pay for economic development in this community. I look forward to our conversation in the workshop,” Murchison added.

With additional parking lot discussion slated for next month’s City Council meeting, the issue will find itself in good company on the agenda with a public hearing regarding potential amendments to Caribou’s City Charter.

Possible charter changes include switching the wording so that municipal officers in Caribou begin their new terms on the first business day in January instead of currently saying “the first Monday.” Another possible change would allow Caribou City Councilors to accept all, none or some of their pay. Under the current charter, a councilor can either accept or not accept pay.

Another proposed charter amendment would change the city’s fiscal year from a calendar year to a July 1 through June 30 fiscal year — which would bring the city in line with the budget cycles of the state and the RSU 39 school board.

Councilor Joan Theriault mentioned another charter amendment she’d like to see — one that rescinds the current verbiage which permits only individuals in good standing with their taxes to serve on the Caribou City Council.

She said there are many reasons someone could be behind on their taxes — a business having a downturn, personal financial problems, medical problems or even if a farmer has a bad year.

“That does not make a person unworthy of running for council,” she said. “I think there are some good minds out there, some people who might be very good at sitting on council, maybe they’ve had a tough year or something and they can’t pay their taxes, but I don’t think this makes them unworthy of holding office and I would really like to see this taken out [of the charter] completely.”

During their meeting, City Clerk Jayne Farrin also reminded councilors and the community that nomination papers are available for those looking to run for Caribou City Council, Planning Board or the Jefferson Cary Board for the November election.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Caribou City Council is slated for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, at Caribou City Council Chambers.

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