BAR HARBOR — On Election Day last month, the Chamber of Commerce and the HUB of Bar Harbor conducted a “Your Vision for Bar Harbor” survey to get an idea of public opinion on top issues facing the town, including parking and uses for the former ferry terminal. Chamber Director Martha Searchfield and HUB representative Kyle Shank presented the survey results at the Dec. 6 Town Council meeting.
“We were just trying to get a sense of what people were thinking, and I think we did,” Searchfield said. She said people answered “neutral” (rather than “agree” or “disagree”) on many questions, which likely indicates people want more information on those issues.
A total of 85 percent of respondents agreed that “Bar Harbor has a problem with housing availability for seasonal workers” as well as “a problem with housing availability in general.”
There was support for “conversion of the former Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal on Eden Street to a cruise ship and transportation hub,” with 59 percent of respondents agreeing, 21 percent disagreeing and 20 percent neutral.
Opinions about parking meters and a parking garage were more divided. A total of 40 percent of respondents supported “a parking garage as one part of a solution to the seasonal parking problem, with 34 percent disagreeing and 25 percent neutral. In that same vein, 32 percent agreed that “seasonal parking meters are a good idea to generate revenue for seasonal parking solutions,” 41 percent disagreed, and 26 percent were neutral.
Concerns that “the next generation of Bar Harbor can’t afford to live here” or “start a business here” were shared by 86 and 70 percent of respondents, respectively.
Other topics on the survey were school, police and fire consolidation, recycling, a winter festival and switching to a city council model of government.
The city council question was included, Searchfield said, because “people ask all the time why we do town meeting the way we do town meeting.”
In all, 472 surveys were counted, meaning that about 15 percent of the 3,217 residents who voted in the general election (in person and absentee) participated.
That’s a much larger group, Nina St. Germain pointed out in a video message to the council about the survey, than shows up to speak at public hearings before the council or shows up to vote at town meeting in June. Town meeting attendance has been between 130 and 150 for the last four years, but was less than 100 for several years before that.
Searchfield and St. Germain said the town should consider new ways of sharing information with residents beyond the town website, local access television and newspapers. Suggestions included using the town’s Facebook page more, creating video interviews with town officials, making approved meeting minutes easier to find and email news lists.
The chamber is not set up to reach town residents with information, Searchfield said, because its members are businesses.
Council Chair Paul Paradis said the current contract for the town website includes a Facebook interface, but it has not been used.
“I always thought the chamber would be one of the best venues for education on some of these issues,” Councilor Gary Friedmann said. “I don’t think there’s any point in bringing these things up for a vote until we get closer to consensus.”