Old Orchard Beach residents granted parking privileges for fee
In a March 7 town council meeting with Chairman Joe Thornton absent, councilors voted 3-1 to allow residents to park at any Old Orchard Beach meter as long as they have a permit, with Vice Chairman Shawn O’Neill dissenting.
Residents can currently purchase a $50 parking permit to park in municipal lots on Milliken Street or in a lot by Memorial Park during summer. With the new policy, residents would have the option to instead pay $75, which would include parking in both lots as well as at any parking spot in the town that has a parking meter. The same rules will still apply in terms of time, meaning if a resident parks at a two-hour parking spot, he or she is required to move the vehicle when the two hours expire. Households will be limited to two permits.
Town Manager Larry Mead said there are eligibility requirements. The permits will be allowed only for people who register their car and live in Old Orchard Beach, people who register their car in Old Orchard Beach and pay real estate taxes to the town, or people who pay real estate taxes and live in their Old Orchard Beach home year-round.
O’Neill said he’s concerned about how the policy would affect parking enforcement’s main source of revenue, especially after the town purchased parking pay stations downtown for more than $100,000 in the last three years. A parking pay station is a solar-powered electronic device that people can use to pay for parking using coins or a debit or credit card. Once paid, a receipt is printed and needs to be placed on the motorist’s dashboard for display.
“We’re going to have to go a long ways to pay for those (pay stations) without any revenue,” he said. “If we lose that source, it puts us two, three or four years backwards. Everybody is . . . tired of businesses and residents paying for summer expenses, and now we’re relaxing our summer revenues from one of our main sources of income. I’m struggling with this concept, not that I don’t want to give residents something more than we can, but with this, we’re allowing parking in Memorial Park and Milliken Street now for $50 for season, so to extend that to parking meters is a mistake.”
Diana Asanza, finance director of Old Orchard Beach, said the town received more than $306,000 in parking fees in fiscal year 2015, and more than $358,000 in fiscal year 2016.
Joe Levasseur, a city employee in charge of meter collection and illegal parking in summer, said there are two stations in the Milliken Street parking lot, one by Memorial Park, and four on Old Orchard Street. They have been purchased in a staggered fashion over the last three years, Levasseur said, and have replaced some single parking coin meters in that area. Between 40 and 50 single-parking meters exist throughout Old Orchard Beach in the summer, but they’re dismantled after September along with the pay stations, he said.
Councilor Michael Tousignant said motivation behind the policy was due to residential demand for parking, which is already limited.
“My understanding is, if there’s more demand for permit parking than we have spaces for at Memorial Park, that’s what really was driving this behind the scenes – there’s not enough spots in Memorial Park for the amount of people that are buying permits,” he said. “It’s becoming harder and harder for people of Old Orchard to come downtown and enjoy downtown. There’s usually a lot of empty spots on First Street that are just not being used by anybody. I know there certainly was last year . . . We’re talking about 50 spots.”
O’Neill said he’d have rather seen the proposed policy be limited to specific streets instead of the whole town.
“It may have been more palatable if it had been presented (with specific streets) and we talked about a certain location in town where we can try that instead of blanketing the whole town,” he said. “I think to blanket the whole town at any meter is the mistake that I see. If we can focus on First Street where we can perhaps make it easier for parking enforcement to enforce, it may have been more palatable, but at this point … we’ve spent $100,000 for (the parking pay stations) and now we won’t charge people to park there. I don’t understand that. I struggle with that. I wish we had known we’d take this direction before paying for parking stations. If First Street is identified as area with these spaces available I have no qualms with that.”
Town Councilor Kenny Blow said he supports the policy because residents deserve the provision.
“People are paying enough in their taxes now,” he said. “They ought to be able to park at a meter and not have to pay whether it’s First Street, Main Street, East Grand, West Grand. They’d be paying $75 for the permit; it’s not like they’re getting it for nothing. I’m all for at least trying it on every street, not limiting it to certain zones (with) residents debating on whether they can park here or park there. Let’s not make it more complicated than it has already become.”