A man pays for parking at a newly installed meter on Main Street in downtown Bar Harbor in May 2019. In its first year of charging for parking on downtown streets and in town-owned parking lots, Bar Harbor had net revenues of more than $1.5 million, triple the amount it had expected when it implemented the system in May. Credit: Bill Trotter

Bar Harbor netted more than $1.5 million in its first season charging for downtown parking, three times the amount town officials said they expected from parking fees, fines and permits.

In May, when the seasonal paid parking system went into effect, Bar Harbor officials said they hoped to raise half a million dollars each summer, when millions of people flock to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

According to the town’s records, from May 15 through Oct. 31 the town had gross revenues of $1.7 million that people paid for parking spaces, for fines they incurred from violating the town’s parking rules, or from the sale of permits that local residents, property taxpayers, business owners and employees could buy so they did not have to pay hourly parking rates.

From that total, the town paid $128,404 to vendors who supplied equipment or services to make the system functional — the manufacturer of meters and kiosks, a payment processing company, and ParkMobile, which is an app customers can use to make payments from their cellphones.

That left the town with just less than $1.6 million.

State law restricts how municipalities can use revenue they earn from paid parking on public property. Towns can only use the money for the maintenance and operation of a paid parking system, to construct and maintain public ways, or for public parking areas.

Bar Harbor has not yet decided how it will spend the revenue it made off the system this year, Town Manager Cornell Knight said. How it will allocate the funds will be determined as the town drafts and then approves its budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which will begin July 1.

The network of meters and kiosks on downtown streets and town-owned parking lots was put in place in late May, after Bar Harbor’s Town Council approved a plan that had been discussed for years in one form or another. The town intends to charge for parking downtown on public property each year from May 1 through the end of October.

Getting the equipment installed and functioning this year took a little longer than anticipated, but town officials have said they expect things will go more smoothly next spring when the system is rolled out for its second year.

Some residents have criticized the parking plan, saying that it makes the town more expensive and less user-friendly for millions of people who visit every year. Others have supported it, saying that it enables the town to charge what amounts to a direct user fee that will go toward needed parking and traffic infrastructure projects, and relieve pressure on property taxpayers.

Knight said there is a chance the town will make some changes to its paid parking system before next May, but town officials have not yet had any formal discussions about possible adjustments.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....