Downtown business owners are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of parking enforcement as they receive more complaints from customers about not being able to find available spaces.

Garry Conklin, owner of Conklin’s Maine Mercantile, said he has sent several emails to City Manager Joseph Slocum requesting more parking enforcement. He said the majority of people who park in two-hour spaces all day work for non-retail businesses.

Currently, the city employs an officer for 10 weeks during the summer to enforce parking. Parking tickets carry a fine of $5, which is issued to the owner of the vehicle, but because they aren’t linked to the Department of Motor Vehicles, are difficult to collect, Slocum said.

“This is a year-round problem. I had a customer call me in February because she had placed a special order and wanted to pick it up,” Conklin said. “She couldn’t find a parking spot and couldn’t get her order.”

Conklin’s frustration was evident as he described how he sees the spaces in front of his store, located on High Street, fill up by 9 a.m. He opened his store nearly a year ago and relies on foot traffic to generate sales, he said.

“We have a website, which has been up since Thanksgiving, but we still rely on people coming into the store,” Conklin said.

Without available parking spaces nearby, Conklin said he feels he is losing a significant amount of business.

“People walked by my store after Patriot’s Day and bought items but that won’t happen today because nobody wants to walk up from Rollie’s [Bar and Grill] in the rain,” he said. “I think a memorandum needs to be sent out to all of the businesses talking about the issue.”

Like Conklin, Out on a Whimsey Owner Deborah Hall said she feels the issue of parking enforcement needs to be addressed.

“I’ve been here for 20 years and it has always been a problem,” Hall said. “I think the biggest problem is mainly with the businesses and the people who work for them. I don’t understand why you would want to park in front of your own store.”

Hall, who rents a parking space from the city for $20 a month, said she spoke with Police Chief Michael McFadden III about marking cars all year round but she was told the department lacks the necessary manpower. Hall said part of the problem with parking is the fact cars are only marked from June to mid-August and then little to no enforcement takes place the rest of the year.

“I would say my customers complain on — if not a daily basis — a weekly basis about the lack of parking,” Hall said. “I hear from some of them saying they drove by and would have stopped but they couldn’t find a space to park in.”

As a possible solution, Hall suggested the police department could chalk tires a few times a week and then follow up to see if vehicles are moving. She also suggested raising the price for parking tickets as a possible deterrent.

However, though Hall said she wants parking to be more strictly enforced, she said some flexibility should be allowed -– especially for out-of-state visitors.

“Two hours isn’t long enough to eat and shop,” Hall said. “You could always give them a warning and tell them where the municipal parking is located.”

During an April 17 City Council meeting, Slocum told councilors he received numerous complaints from businesses about people parking in spots for longer than the allotted time period and expressing concern the police department wasn’t doing enough to enforce parking restrictions.

During an interview Monday, Slocum said the issue of parking is one the city has been dealing with for years but it has become increasingly prevalent as more people start arriving in the city earlier in the year.

“They are arriving earlier and staying longer,” Slocum said. “I think the problem and the solution are the same.”

Part of that solution is creating more cooperation among business owners, he said. Slocum said he would prefer to stay away from passing legislation regarding parking enforcement, and would instead prefer to see the businesses work out a compromise.

“One thing we really want is for first time visitors to come here and have a good time. We hope they acclimate themselves and abide by the parking rules,” Slocum said.

In addition to fostering more cooperation among businesses, Slocum said the city also is in the process of acquiring more signs to direct vehicles to municipal parking lots.

“We are behind in signage. We’re now waiting for the new signs, which have gone out to bid,” he said.

As a last resort, if parking continues to be an issue, then Slocum suggested the city could implement harsher fees, which would provide an incentive for people to pay fines in a timely manner. Increasing fines could include doubling the amount of any fees after 30 days that remain unpaid, Slocum said.

“It’s a situation where you would have somebody who is walking around with $200 worth of parking tickets suddenly has $2,000 worth of tickets,” Slocum said. “That’s somebody I would take to court all day.”

Councilor Michael Hurley said during the meeting he understands the frustration from businesses but said the problem may be complicated by a lack of equipment within the police department to properly monitor vehicles.

“The officers have to have a hand-held unit that tells them how long a car has been parked in a spot. It could also tell them if it’s a person who has never received a parking ticket or someone who has received 20,” Hurley said.

Police Chief Michael McFadden said current staffing levels within the department don’t allow for officers to spend time monitoring parked vehicles.

“Our day shift, which is when parking enforcement would take place, receives such a high volume of calls for service that it doesn’t leave officers enough time to go downtown and do a foot patrol to mark tires,” he said. “I would have no problem running parking enforcement 365 days a year, but we need the bodies to do that.”

McFadden said he understands the frustration on the part of business owners and noted the solution to the parking problem is not easily solved.

“I don’t know what the answer is but the reality of the situation is that there are a limited number of parking spaces and two hours may not be long enough for visitors to do and see everything they want to,” he said. “We don’t want to discourage people from visiting the downtown area.”

Once the issue of parking enforcement is addressed, Slocum said the next problem facing the city is the amount of available parking.

“Right now we have enough, but that isn’t going to be the case going into the future,” he said. “We’re going to need to find a better way to use what we have.”

Reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or bholbrook@villagesoup.com.