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Our downtown is changing and significantly. One of the greatest changes is that there is an increase in the amount of parking that is being demanded as new attractions and residences come to the downtown. There is no indication that this trend is going to stop in the future.
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There are two major sources of the increased parking demand. First, a number of the buildings in the downtown that were empty or underutilized have been rehabbed and now occupied. As of 2021, 1,345,642 square feet of mill space is now occupied. There is an estimated 262,938 of vacant space that still remains. Second, the residential rental market has changed greatly in the downtown. For many years a large share of renters either did not own a vehicle or only had one vehicle. Today, it is more common for renters to have multiple vehicles per unit, including several younger unrelated individuals, each with their own vehicle.
The goals are really quite simple. They are:
Stop having property taxpayers pay 100% of the costs associated with giving others free parking in the downtown; instead require the people that choose to use the space pay for the parking instead. The underlying financial goal is really quite simple. Today all costs associated with parking are paid for by every single property taxpayer. The entire program is designed to shift who pays for parking in downtown - from the property taxpayers to those that use the parking. To be more specific, it is focused on the long term uses of parking spaces in the community, not the customers of the businesses that go into the downtown. Any business (for long term parking only) or rental property that does not provide enough parking for their property’s needs will no longer get that parking free from the community. They can seek private parking alternatives or pay to use the city parking lots.
Continue to provide free and easy-to-find parking for customers that come into the downtown. It is also important that there is plenty of customer parking available to continue to encourage visitors to come to the downtown. This is probably the most misunderstood part of the parking changes. Throughout the downtown, all short term on street parking remains free. During the hours of 8 AM to 6 PM, most downtown parking is limited to 2 hours. There are a few places that have shorter time limits because of the nature of the nearby businesses. These are FREE. After 6 PM, there is no time limit. However, in some areas, there is no overnight parking from 1 AM to 6 AM.
Have more parking built in the downtown to allow growth in the downtown to continue without impacting residential areas surrounding the downtown. The long term solution to the parking issue is to create more parking in the downtown. The 644-space parking garage on Pearl Street is one of the ways that the City addressed this long-term issue. This garage was not paid for using tax revenue from residential property taxpayers in the community. However, the property taxpayers will receive the benefits of continued growth in the tax base in the downtown. You can read more of those details in other questions.
The good news is a new lot of the growth in taxable property in the community is coming from the downtown area. Since 2014, the taxable value in the downtown has grown by $26,831,204. Assuming today’s tax rate of $19.70, these properties are paying $419,247.95 more in property taxes in 2018-2019 than they did in 2014. These funds have been used by the city in three ways. First, it was part of the reason that the tax rate dropped last year from $20.07 to today’s rate of $19.70. Second, the increase in the homestead exemption (the $394.00 savings that every single-family home owner gets if they filed for the homestead) was paid in part by the increased values in the downtown. Finally, the city is spending (and paying cash) nearly $1,500,000 more annually fixing roads, buildings and replacing equipment than it did in 2014. This has occurred while reducing the tax rate due in part to the increased value in the downtown.
The competition for parking continues to grow in the downtown. As the demand has grown, there are more vehicles parking all day in the downtown. This continues to erode the available parking for customers. We continue to see more all-day parking spilling over into traditional residential neighborhoods. As more property redevelops, the problems will get increasing more difficult. At some point, the parking issue will have an adverse impact on continued growth in the downtown.
After several years of discussions about parking in the downtown, it is hopeful that everyone understands what ”free parking” means. Given that the City has very limited resources, free means a portion of your property tax bill pays for others to park for free. There is growing pressure to create more parking in the downtown. Unchanged, it will be your property taxes that will be used to pay for it. Ironically, a lot of the long-term employees that park for free are not Biddeford residents. The same can be said about the landlords that own the apartments and apartment buildings that do not provide parking for their tenants. Without changing the system, you pay for their parking needs. With this change, when you do come downtown to enjoy the businesses, there will be more no-charge, short-term parking available. Finally, having more public parking constructed in the downtown will continue to allow the downtown to change from what it was 10 to 15 years ago to the path that it is on now. The growth in the downtown has had a positive impact on your personal property tax burden and ensuring an opportunity for continued growth is expected to continue the trend.
The parking changes will not increase your taxes. In fact, the purpose of the parking changes is to shift the cost of maintaining downtown parking from a taxpayer-subsidized model to a user-subsidized model. That means that your tax dollars will no longer be used to maintain downtown parking lots.