BAR HARBOR — The Police Department is looking to hire seasonal civilian staff to monitor pedestrian and traffic flow on cruise ship days next year pending budget approval, according to Police Chief Jim Willis.
Willis updated the Town Council Tuesday on what the Police Department has been doing this season to improve safety and ease traffic congestion, and what they hope to do next season.
“We certainly need more staffing,” Willis told councilors. “You’ll be hearing from me during budget season.”
To date, police officers have been managing pedestrian and traffic flow at the two locations where cruise ship passengers arrive ashore and at bus loading sites, which is a strain on the police force, he said.
“The cruise ship work that the [Police Department] has done since the beginning has always been through overtime. These are people working their days off, working double shifts.
“With changes we’re making, it’s going to take even more staff.”
The changes Willis referred to involve instituting some of the recommendations from a Cruise Tourism and Traffic Congestion study commissioned by the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) and published in July.
The council referred the report to the Cruise Ship Committee, which separated its recommendations into short- and long-term changes. The committee asked Willis to study the short term, safety related goals, and report back.
The recommendations include creating a “pedestrian area” near Harbor Place and having cruise ship passengers load buses there. Ribbons or “soft barriers” are stretched across the sidewalk “so [pedestrians] don’t just free-flow into the street,” Willis explained.
Ribbons are also stretched across West Street near Harbor Place to prevent motorists from entering into the bus-loading area.
“We’ve changed some traffic flows,” Willis told councilors. “That’s caused some locals some confusion and frustration, but we’re trying to accommodate them. Like the fishermen sometimes need to pass through that pedestrian area, so we’re able to lift up the barrier tapes.”
Willis stressed this was not a road closure, but “controlled access” for the purpose of safety. A temporary road closure would require permission by Town Council, and a permanent road closure or similar change would require an ordinance change.
“We are working on a conceptual plan to combine our parking enforcement staff with our cruise ship staff into a new ‘special services’ division of the Police Department,” he wrote in a memo. “The vision is to have a full time, year round police supervisor (new position) manage parking enforcement and cruise ship activities with support from officers working overtime and several civilian personnel who would do parking enforcement and the crossing guard work described in this recommendation.
“During the winter,” he continued, “this person could be available as a ‘floater’ to fill shifts when people use time off, saving the town overtime costs and keeping our School Resource Officer in the schools.”
Willis told councilors he would like to add six to 10 seasonal civilian staff for the proposed new division.
“Because I think the seasons kind of flow into each other fairly well,” he said. Parking enforcement is needed for May through October. The cruise ship season runs late April to early November, with the biggest passenger days are in the spring and fall, when passenger caps are 5,500 per day.
Salaries for the new positions can be paid from cruise ship and parking fees, Willis suggested, to avoid raising taxes.
“Civilian personnel that can take care of crosswalks and focus on congestion,” he said. “And then the officer can better focus on security.” Additionally, the Police Department will “stop relying on overtime all the time.”
The Town Council initially requested the congestion study last October, following a meeting with cruise industry advocates from CLIA. When they discussed the findings in August, several councilors said they were unimpressed.