2017-02-24 / Community

Kennebunk moves to hike fines and fees

Parking fines up as much as 300 percent, fees for fire response added; First beach parking permit now free to residents
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Kennebunk residents will now get their first beach parking permit for free each year, but other fines and fees in town are slated to go up by as much as 300 percent.

According to Town Clerk Merton Brown, the new fee schedule was based on a survey of similar costs to the public in seven surrounding towns: Kennebunkport, Kittery, Old Orchard Beach, Saco, Scarborough, Wells, Yarmouth, and York. Many of those changes passed without comment from selectmen, either at the first vote on the increases, at the Jan. 24 board meeting, or during a public hearing and final vote on Feb. 15.

Among those hikes, a new tiered system of fines has been implemented against those ticketed for more than one parking violation in a single year.

The first ticket will still cost car owners $25, while parking in a handicapped spot and parking at a town beach without a permit, remain capped at $250 and $50, respectively. However, getting a second parking ticket within a 12-month period will now cost $50 (a 100 percent increase), while each subsequent offense will reap $100 (up 300 percent) for town coffers.

On the plus side of the ledger, town residents will now be able to get their first beach parking permit each year for free. Previously, the first permit cost $2, while the second and third cost $5 each. Local ordinances limit residents to no more than three beach parking permits per year. After that they must buy a guest permit.

According to town finance director Joel Downs, Kennebunk reaped $165,000 last year from beach parking permits. His proposal was to hike the fee to $5 for the first resident permit, then $10 for the second and third. Even with an expected decrease in demand due to the higher cost, the new price structure, including hikes for permits sold to non-residents, should net the town $181,000 next year, Downs predicted. However, at the suggestion of Chairman Dick Morin, selectmen went the opposite way, choosing to waive the fee to residents for their first beach parking sticker each season.

“If we believe the beaches belong to everybody in this town, it’s counterintuitive that we then charge people to drive down and use them,” Selectman Blake Baldwin said, backing Morin.

However, when that motion came back for a second reading, Brown and Downs urged selectmen to reconsider.

“We spent a lot of time discussing this, as the department that sells them, and, logistically, giving away a free beach pass is going to be difficult to track how many beach passes people have and don’t have,” Brown said.

“Our system is such that we collect money. That’s our system,” Downs said. “When we collect the money, that we enter into the system, we can see who as already paid their $2.”

Not charging a fee would mean inventing a new way of tracking who needs to pay for additional permits, Downs said.

However, Morin was not to be swayed and stood his ground.

“I’d like to think that it [my property taxes] would include a place, if I was able to get up early enough, to park at the beach,” he said. “I stand firm on that. I think that changing process is something that we have to become nimble at.”

Downs’ follow-up argument was that issuing a free parking sticker might invite a temptation to cheat the system.

“I think the incidence of people trying to circumnavigate [the fee for] that second and third [permit] might be more prevalent, given that they could come in and attempt to get a first one, again,” he said.

But again, Baldwin rallied to Morin’s cause.

“I think residents should get some benefit from their taxes that is tangible,” he said. “I mean, they do have fire and police and public works, but I thought it was a very nice gesture to do this.”

Selectmen did agree to double the price of a third parking permit from $5 to $10. Down’s said that, combined with elimination of the $2 fee for the first sticker, would cost the town about $9,000 in annual revenue. However, he said the change would not cause a shortfall in next year’s budget as he had already penciled in $150,000 in total beach parking permits sold, less than the actual windfall realized last season.

Downs and Brown agreed they’ll come up with some method of tracking who has received their one free parking permit per year.

“We’ll accommodate,” Downs said. “It’s an extra step, but we’ll figure it out. I’ve had bigger challenges in my life.”

While the $2 fee disappears, increased costs for beach parking for third stickers, and to non-residents did give pause to some selectmen. The town is currently undertaking a review of its beach parking policies, and some already fear the impact to surrounding neighborhood should a recommendation come back to implement metered parking, or institute time limits.

“People who don’t want to buy permits just move up into the nearby residential areas, which causes heartburn for those residents,” Baldwin said.

Still for some selectmen, elimination of the $2 parking fee was a hard-won victory after a tough budget review spread across five meetings in early February.

“I tried to find $50,000 everywhere I could to try and help the taxpayers,” Selectman Ed Karytko said. “If this is all I can get, I’ll take it.”

Those who don’t pay property tax to Kennebunk won’t be quite so lucky, however.

Beach parking permits for guests of residents and taxpayers will go up from $20 to $25, each. If that person is staying a hotel, however, the fee will now be $50, a 150 percent increase.

For non-residents, beach parking permit costs will grow from $20 to $25 for a day sticker, from $75 to $100 for a weeklong pass, and from $150 to $200 for a full season. The fee to replace a lost parking sticker will double, from $5 to $10.

Other increases

Non-residents also lose out on the water. While the mooring fee for Kennebunk boat owners remains pat at $150, the cost to those from away goes up to $200. Also, the fee to get on the waiting list for a mooring spot spikes from $15 to $25.

Violating the town’s dog ordinance also will net increased fines, with a first offence increasing from $20 to $25. Get caught a second time and the fine jumps from $40 to $50.

There also are steeper fines for violating the town’s firearms discharge ordinance. While a second offense in a given year remains at $250, the first ticket cost jumps from $100 to $150, while a third offence will set scofflaws back $500, up from $400.

The cost of a special amusement license — generally issued for live entertainment at bars and restaurants — will rise from $75 to $100.

The town also will charge a $50 application fee for those wishing to sell food and other goods at the Waterhouse Center, while those who succeed to getting a license will not pay $500 for the privilege.

While selectmen let that change pass without comment, they did step in for a similar fee which sees developers pay to file an application for review by the planning board, then pony up for a building permit once their project is approved.

Again, it was Morin who led the charge for a price break.

“I know that will cost us something,” he said, “but you pay to get your hearing underway and as soon as we issue an okay for that you then get assessed a fee for the [building] permit, which could be big money for a big project. The applicant ends up paying again for the opportunity of doing business with the town.”

Town Manager Michael Pardue said the fee — $500 for a major site plan, $250 for a minor one — is intended to recoup the cost of reviewing development projects.

“We certainly aren’t in the business of profit-making, but we do need to account for staff time,” he said.

Community Development Director Chris Osterrieder said that, based on an average of about 10 development proposals per year, crediting the price of the application fee to the cost of an eventual building permit would set the town back, “between $5,000 and $6,000” per year.

Not all selectmen seemed super-enthused by the new credit policy.

“They’re paying for two different services and now we’re saying first part is free,” Selectman Shiloh Schulte said. “What it comes down is, for successful permits, the taxpayer is now paying for the process.”

However, only Selectman Dan Boothby voted against the idea, carrying his no vote to the entire fine and fee package.

“What is the cost to the taxpayers? We don’t even have a clue,” he said. “And how is it funded? And how many people does it affect? I don’t think we should do that unless we know.”

Boothby also argued unsuccessfully to edit the fee for police response to false alarms. Previously, business owners got three strikes per year for tripped burglar alarms. After that, the police department charges $100 for responding needlessly, then $200 for the second false alarm, and $300 for each additional ghost call. The new fee structure eliminates the initial three-for-free courtesy.

“I’d have a problem with that. That’s seems excessive to me,” said Boothby, who admitted to accidentally setting off the burglar alarm more than once in a single day at his place of business.

Fire and rescue fees

Finally, the cost billed to patient insurance carriers for ambulance services will go up. After remaining flat last year, the cost for basic life support will jump from $800 to $1,000. Providing advanced life support will jump, depending on services provided, to either $1,500 (up 36 percent from $1,100) or $2,000 (up 25 percent from $1,600), while specialty care climbs a similar percentage, from $2,000 to $2,500. The fee charged for emergency transport will increase $1 to $16 per mile.

“We’ve gone up pretty significantly in recent years, and now we’re going up pretty significantly again,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said.

“This is based on information from our billing company and what’s going on in towns around us,” Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe said. “This still does not put us at the top of the scale. This puts us in the middle.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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