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Council moves to hike parking fees

A proposed fee increase in downtown parking lots could boost rates by $3 a day and pave the way for better roads, more bike paths and safer walkways.

The City Council voted Wednesday to raise the daily parking fee at the city’s ferry terminal lot from $7.25 to $10 and to double the commercial parking tax. The increased tax would mean a private lot charging $8 per day would likely increase rates to about $11, said the proposal’s author, Councilman Bob Scales.

The proposed increase is 6 points shy of the 30 percent maximum for commercial lot taxes.

“Parking is at an artificially low rate,” Scales said. “It’s definitely below what the market will bear, and doesn’t encourage alternative ways of commuting.”

Revenues generated in 2005 from lot fees and taxes would be dumped into two pots: one for non-motorized transportation improvements and the other for road maintenance projects.

Scales estimates the increases would more than double parking-generated revenues, giving both areas a $350,000 cash infusion each year.

While funding earmarked for non-motorized transportation improvements in 2005 had soared to almost $1.6 million by a Department of Public Works estimate Monday, Scales said the parking fee increases would establish a steady flow of cash into bike lanes, trails and sidewalks.

The city’s ferry parking lot hasn’t seen a rate increase in five years and is well below prices at private lots in Kingston, where a 10-hour stay costs $10 and where $12 buys 24 hours, Scales said.

“Kingston charges more than we do and they are obviously not as large a ferry run as us,” he said.

Scales doesn’t foresee the rate increases emptying parking lots in downtown Winslow.

“I’m pretty confident there’s greater demand than supply,” he said.

City Budget Manager Ralph Eells vouched for Scales’ math, calling it “generally reasonable.”

“As rates go up, volume will go down – but not enough to put a dent in anything,” he said.

But Cary Chamberlin, a Blakely Avenue resident who co-owns the Torch Investment parking lot at the ferry terminal with her husband Jack, disagrees.

“It’s going to make a big dent,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. We’re already bracing for the Kingston (passenger-only) ferry and the great number of people that will stay in that area and not park here.”

Chamberlin said doubling the tax on her business is unfair.

“Does any other business have to pay 24 percent of what they charge?” she asked.

A decade ago, a hike in the parking tax inspired Jack Chamberlin to run for mayor; he finished second in a five-way primary before losing in the general election. Cary Chamberlin said she’s rolling up her sleeves to stop this tax hike.

“We’ll do what we have to, to fight it,” she said.

While few lot owners and users will gleefully fork over the additional dollars, Scales offered a bright side to the pinch: drivers using the city lot will no longer have to scrounge up an odd combination of bills and coins to meet the current $7.25 fee.

“You won’t have to fumble with change,” he said. “Now it’ll be just a simple $10 bill.”

The proposal will undergo a legal review and is set for final passage before the end of the year.

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