BIDDEFORD — City councilors voted 6-3 Tuesday night to send a resolution to the Legislature supporting a change in state law that would allow a proposal for a racino in Biddeford to move forward.

More than 76,000 signatures from supporters of Biddeford Downs were filed Jan. 19, calling for a citizens initiative to change provisions of Maine’s gambling law that now prevent racinos from being built.

Biddeford Downs, a partnership between Scarborough Downs and Ocean Properties Ltd., plans a $125 million racino west of the Maine Turnpike in Biddeford. The city’s voters endorsed the project in November.

State law allowed Scarborough Downs and Bangor Raceway to seek local approval to operate slot machines, but imposed a deadline of Dec. 31, 2003. Scarborough Downs missed that deadline.

Also blocking the plan for Biddeford Downs is the Oxford County casino initiative approved by Maine voters in November. That initiative prohibits other gambling operations within a 100-mile radius of the casino in Oxford.

The resolution approved Tuesday night says, in part, “The Biddeford City Council, on behalf of the City, respectfully asks the Maine Legislature to enact the modest statutory amendments needed to allow the Biddeford Downs project to proceed … without requiring another statewide referendum on the project.”

Councilors who favored the resolution agreed that the law must be changed quickly for the project to move forward and for jobs to be created.

“This is the right way to go for the city of Biddeford,” said Councilor Rick Laverriere. “Let’s get this process going.”

Councilors who voted against the resolution – Jim Emerson, Patricia Boston and Clement Fleurent – supported sending the law change to a statewide referendum rather than the Legislature.

“I don’t consider these modest changes,” to the law, Emerson said. “This needs to continue down the path of letting the state make the decision.”

Also Tuesday, city councilors voted unanimously to increase the cost of parking at the beach for nonresidents.

Nonresidents who paid $75 for seasonal parking permits last summer can expect to pay $120 this year. The cost of seven-day permits for nonresidents will rise from $40 to $60. Three-day permits will go from $25 to $35, and day passes that once cost $10 will now cost $15.

For Biddeford residents, the price of beach parking permits will remain $10 for the season.

City Councilor Bob Mills, chairman of the city’s policy committee, said fees for parking along Fortunes Rocks Road and at Middle and Biddeford Pool beaches had not been reviewed for five years.

The policy committee reviewed the fees as a way to cover expenses associated with the beaches, Mills said. For last summer, the city paid more than $46,500 in wages to lifeguards and more than $8,800 in wages to parking attendants.

Revenue from beach parking permits from July to the end of the year was $24,105. Raising the parking fees was a step toward making the beach operations self-sustaining, Mills said.

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]