Our View: Postpone Rock Harbor Paid Parking Plan

Non-residents could soon have to pay to park at Rock Harbor if an article seeking to establish new parking fees is approved at the special town meeting in October. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

The proposal to establish paid parking at the Rock Harbor lot in Orleans isn't ready for prime time. Officials should postpone the Oct. 17 special town meeting article to allow the program to be fine tuned, and more importantly, to broaden discussions to find out if the community really wants to take this step. Our sense is that right now, there is little to no support and the article is likely to fail.

We've heard plenty of objections to the proposal to institute a $15 a day parking fee at the popular harbor. Charter boat operators are worried how it would impact their business. Others are concerned that it will discourage casual visitors who may want to check out the CG36500 or just have lunch at the harbor. While some people may come to Rock Harbor to sit on the beach while parking for free, we haven't heard any complaints about the lot being full and residents — who would park for free with a beach sticker — being unable to find a spot.

In many ways, the program as proposed seems like a solution in search of a problem. Sure, local towns need revenue for projects such as dredging and shorefront infrastructure, but there are other sources, including state grants and tax revenue, since everyone benefits from a vibrant commercial harbor. If people pay to park in half of the 125 spaces daily, as Town Administrator John Kelly estimated, over the course of a summer that's a bit more than $80,000. With the $32,500 initial cost to implement the smartphone app program officials are touting, plus unknown annual costs and staff time to police the lot, that's not going to leave much revenue available for other purposes.

The smartphone app is likely to cause confusion and require supplemental ways to pay. And without knowing what those might be, or the exact hours and regulations that go along with paid parking, it's unfair to ask voters to approve the entire scheme. Simply put, more homework is needed. The special town meeting article should be postponed until the annual town meeting in the spring, if the proposal makes it past further vetting by townspeople and officials.