HALLOWELL — Municipal officials are considering adding a part-time parking officer and increasing ticket fees after years of lax enforcement and complaints from businesspeople.

Downtown business owners have long complained about a level of enforcement that now falls to police officers and is, according to Chief Eric Nason, “consistently lower than it needs to be” because of low staffing levels in the department.

Janet Merrill, owner of Reappearances, a Water Street store, said there are many days when downtown tenants or other business owners park in two-hour, street-side spots for eight hours or more.

She said while police respond when she calls and do what they can to help, they don’t have time to do what is needed.

“On a daily basis, you rarely see the tires chalked,” Merrill said.

The spots are governed by city ordinances. Those parking in most spots in Water Street’s core downtown area are limited to two hours during business hours except on Sundays and holidays. Other prime spots, including the three in front of the post office on Second Street, are limited to 15 minutes.

Councilor Lynn Irish, who chairs the City Council committee overseeing public safety and owns WhipperSnappers, a downtown fabric shop, said councilors will consider adding money to Hallowell’s budget for a dedicated parking officer next year.

City Manager Michael Starn has estimated the position’s cost to be $5,000, some of which could be offset by increased enforcement and fees. Now a first violation for parking too long in a city spot is $10. That would increase to $15 under the city’s early plan, Nason said.

Councilor Mark Sullivan, chairman of the city’s budget committee, said his panel will review all parking fees with an eye toward making the position pay for itself or having it generate revenue. He said the parking officer could be contracted through another agency or be a unique employee.

Nason said his department gets six to 12 parking complaints per week from downtown businesses. However, the city also struggles with people parking for long periods of time at the 72-hour lot near Granite City Park along the downtown riverfront on the Kennebec River and in other places, he said.

The city, relying on police officers to fit parking enforcement into their beats, has lagged well behind bigger neighboring communities with dedicated parking officers.

In the 2014 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, Hallowell collected slightly more thaner $2,000 in ticket fees.

Augusta, with a parking district, collected more than $16,000 in the 2013 calendar year, while Gardiner; with a part-time parking officer, collected about $3,000.

“If we had a specific person doing enforcement,” Nason said, “it would be more consistent.”

According to Irish, the city’s goal “isn’t to ticket people, the goal is to get tenants, shop owners and shop employees not to park in two-hour-parking.”

“We’re hoping that if we enforce it, people will get the message,” she said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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