Late last year, the city removed a designated taxicab parking space from downtown Belfast because it was viewed as a relic from the days when numerous cab companies waged cutthroat competition for downtown business. But on March 16, four city councilors — Councilor Mike Hurley was absent — found themselves faced with the question of whether the city could support a third taxicab service.

The request came from Schooner Bay Taxi of Rockland. Representatives Christopher and Renita Merritt told the Council that work they had done for Waldo Community Action Partners had led to conversations with the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce about serving the tourists from the cruise lines that dock in Belfast Harbor during the summer. Christopher Merritt speculated that the proposed Belfast Civic Center, if built, could bring more fares.

“We’re not coming up here to try to drive anyone out,” he said. “We’ve been called by area businesses to come up and supply their transportation.”

Under current regulations, taxis licensed in other municipalities can drop off fares in Belfast but not pick up. Merritt said he hoped to be able to operate two taxicabs out of Belfast with pick-up and drop-off privileges.

The request met with opposition from the operators of Swanville-based Bay Taxi. Co-owner Thomas Murphy said his company holds permits to operate five taxicabs in Belfast but he typically only has one or two permits active. Murphy said he had not received any complaints about his service and didn’t think the town could sustain a third taxicab service, the first two being Bay Taxi and a single-car service called Little Man Taxi.

In considering applications for taxicab licenses, the city’s code of ordinances requires the Council to find that there is “sufficient demand” from the public, and that existing mass transportation and taxi services are “inadequate,” among other things. The code places the burden of proof on the applicant.

“I’m not exactly sure why that’s the law,” said Councilor Roger Lee. “I’m not sure why we don’t let taxi cab companies — as we do with most other businesses out there — fight it out in the marketplace. But apparently we have that burden.”

City Clerk Roberta Fogg said her understanding of the ordinance was that it was written with the intermittent nature of the business in mind, to ensure that the city didn’t accidentally put all of the taxicab services out of business.

Fogg said she recently heard from a pub owner who wanted to drive patrons home because they felt they weren’t being served by the taxi services in town. The owner asked Fogg if the establishment could charge a fee to cover gas. “I said once you take a dime, you become a taxi service and you have to be licensed,” she said.

Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janet Dutson said she contacted Schooner Bay Taxi because cruise ships docked in the harbor were having trouble finding a vehicle to bring tourists up the hill into town. Laurie Berkeley, co-owner of Bay Taxi, said her service met the cruise ships every time they came, but said it would be impossible to leave a vehicle at the harbor and still serve the rest of the city. Berkeley said she didn’t believe there was a need for another taxi service.

Asked about Bay Taxi’s hours, Berkeley said the service operates 24 hours but after 10 p.m. is reservations only, with the exception of calls from the police department or hospital. The statement prompted Councilor Lewis Baker to question whether a bar patron could get a ride home late at night.

Berkeley said the Swanville-based company is 12 minutes from Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, but Baker stated a preference for having cars in Belfast.

Merritt said he would plan to have two cars in Belfast from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. and accept fares with reservations during the remaining three hours.

Councilor Marina Delune said she wanted to do some research to see if there was a need for an additional taxicab service. Councilor Eric Sanders argued that there wouldn’t be another company requesting a license if the need weren’t there.

A vote to allow Schooner Bay Tax to operate two taxis in Belfast split 2-2 with Delune and Lee opposed, giving Mayor Walter Ash a rare tie-breaking vote. Ash voted to grant the license to Schooner Bay Taxi.

In other business, the Council approved requests by:

• Three Tides Waterfront Bar to host a privately-run, commercial event, selling alcohol at Steamboat Landing in conjunction with Belfast Harbor Fest, formerly the National Boatbuilding Challenge.

• Arts in the Park to locate exhibitors’ booths on Front Street between Marshall Wharf Road and Federal Street from July 9 -11.

• The Belfast Farmers’ Market to hold the weekly market on Upper Main Street once a month from May 7 to Oct. 29.

• AMVETS to use Belfast City Park on August 20-24 for a Civil War re-enactment encampment and activities.

The Council also: heard an update on the activities of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce; heard about Central Maine Power’s plan to undertake widespread tree trimming in Belfast this summer; approved spending up to $1,300 for a new computer for the Code and Planning Office; and approved a letter of interest for a Creative Community Economic Development Grant.