Town Parking Fees May Rise In Next Budget
BAR HARBOR— Lemonade stands? Tolls to get into town? The ball field becoming a parking lot? More moorings? More than half the ideas were jokes, but there was also a bit of desperation behind the humor as about ten residents met with Town Manager Kevin Sutherland for an informal Manager’s Minutes session hosted at the Jesup Memorial Library, Wednesday afternoon.
The ideas spouted out by residents were part of a discussion of alternative revenue streams to help lower the tax burden on property owners as they try to support an infrastructure for a tourist town of 5,000 that help supports Acadia National Park’s 4 million visitors in one year.
One of those potential options could be raising parking fees, an idea that Sutherland will bring to the Town Council during the upcoming budget session for Fiscal Year 2024. The council and town’s Warrant Committee both review the budget before presenting it to voters at the annual town meeting. The review process tends to last until March with multiple meetings throughout. Bar Harbor voters have the ultimate approval of the budget.
Sutherland said that this past season, $2.2 million in revenue was raised via parking fees. However, he added, that just to take care of the top priority roads in the next year, it will cost the town $1.5 million. There are also enforcement costs and other added costs that those fees fund.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Sutherland said, and those efforts include potentially working with the park to strengthen and secure paths for pedestrian and bikers into the park and out as the town works to fix some crumbling infrastructure in sidewalks and roads as well as reduce its carbon footprint.
Sutherland again went over the council’s goals during this meeting and emphasized that while he thinks about town issues all the time, he is employed by the council and his job is to support that body and its goals.
MDI Hospital President and CEO Christina Maquire said there has to be partnerships with the state for both the town and nonprofits like the hospital, and that infrastructure improvements need to be a dual burden beyond just the locals.
“You can build more infrastructure. You can build more business,” she said, but you need workforce and housing or else you’re still working with the problem of scarcity. The Camdens, the Wellses and the Yorks are suffering as well, she said.
Sutherland said what he thinks Bar Harbor needs is a greater sales tax percentage back. “How we do that is really hard.” The twenty communities that are the service center of the state have been fighting for that for 40 years, he said, stressing that Bar Harbor is a community of approximately 5,000 year-round residents that supports a massive tourism industry that requires a full fire department and police department and additional infrastructure for hotels and roads and waterfront through property taxes.
“We as a community pay for the use of our community by others,” he said.
Compounding that situation, a great deal of land in the town is the national park and not buildable or owned by nonprofits, and therefore can’t create more property taxes. The town’s Land Use Ordinance controls what can be built, where, and the requirements for building properties.
Sutherland said again that Bar Harbor in 2021 generated $236 million in restaurant and lodging sales tax revenue for Maine, but much less than 1% of that comes back to the town.
“In this current fiscal year, we budgeted $616,600 for state aid for our schools and $350,000 of revenue sharing for municipal services. That’s $966,600,” Sutherland told The Bar Harbor Story, last month. “Less than one percent. Less than half of one percent is coming back to the community in which it was generated.”
The revenues that are generated by the town are passed onto the state, but not the town itself for the infrastructure needs to support the tourism that creates the revenue.
Sutherland added Wednesday that his focus is trying to help facilitate that effort by the council to create a resilient community. Part of that, he said is to balance year-round needs and community with the tourist capacity. He hopes to have a retreat this spring and has asked a consulting group out of Bangor to help frame the conversation and information.
He added that the town’s assessor is moving more into a data architect role. His knowledge of GIS and how to take that information collected in public works and how to assemble that data in a way that’s readable and understandable. That shift occurred last month.
Part of that shift may be in creating a visual representation of sidewalk repair priorities. Those repairs can’t come too soon for Jackie Levesque whose 92-year-old mother lives at Malvern Belmont and wants to go to the library independently.
“The bumps in the sidewalks make it hard for her to get her walker over,” Levesque said.
Sutherland stressed that he wants equity in care for neighborhoods, which is why he wants the red-yellow-green priority list for sidewalk use. Those priorities can be determined by seeing what’s high use, the type of use, the need for repair. The public works staff does that evaluation of the sidewalks.
Taking care of the neighborhoods, particularly the areas where the elderly are living, is critical, Sutherland and Levesque agreed, but part of the town’s issue, Sutherland said, is getting contractors to come do the work.
VISITATION PATTERNS AND SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
Susan Sassaman mentioned the Climate Change and Tourism lecture put on by learners at the University of Maine and A Climate To Thrive the night before.
“Their premise is Bar Harbor and MDI can get known as the green, eco-friendly destination and place to come,” she said.
Tying in the sidewalk improvement projects with the bike paths and bus route to get federal funds might be an avenue to explore, framing the story around sidewalks as a carbon reduction effort. It’s a concept brought up by Ken Colburn at the last Manager’s Minutes.
“That’s a huge island-wide big-picture thing to work toward,” Sassaman said.
The event on Wednesday stressed that collaborations and looking for opportunities was key to solutions for local problems that focused on environmental impacts and sustainability.
Sutherland said that the town’s sustainability coordinator, Laura Berry, has already gotten money for projects due to her past experience in grant writing. “If we can encourage more people to walk or ride a bike instead of a car, we can reduce the carbon-based footprint,” Sutherland said.
There was also discussion about the work of the Planning Department and the Comprehensive Planning Committee, particularly about the town’s multiple zones, all of which have different rules for building and development.
The town’s Land Use Ordinance currently sculpts out 40 different zones. Any land use ordinance change goes before town voters at the town meeting, but all at the Manager’s Minutes agreed 40 was too many.
Maguire said that the hospital would like to build workforce housing off Pleasant Street, but has issues because of zoning rules. She’d like to build six units and can only build five, but even that is complicated. Lots, buildings, homes can sometimes straddle zones. A large intown site like the hospital’s can abut multiple zones.
Sutherland said that there is an opportunity via the Comprehensive Plan process to clean up the number of zones, but also the town can start working through recommendations and needs prior to the plan’s approval by the state. He stressed that the recent proposed Land Use Ordinance changes that were generated by the Planning Department and endorsed by the Planning Board last week are examples of that. The changes are to:
- Remove double setback distances,
- Remove floor area ratio requirements,
- Remove conversion to multifamily use requirements,
- Remove the requirement of underground utilities.
All are explained in depth in our January 5 story. Those changes will also be discussed by the Town Council. Their ultimate approval or disapproval is up to the town’s voters this spring.
LINKS TO LEARN MORE IF YOU FEEL LIKE IT
Proposed Changes Could Increase Development in Bar Harbor
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