Critics say the controversial Bay Shore meter program is crippling local businesses, but Islip Town officials say parking management is necessary in the hamlet’s booming downtown.

Last week, Islip officials announced the latest change to include more free parking in some areas, including on weekdays before 6 p.m. in the town-owned lots behind Main Street.

The changes were in response to complaints about the expense and inconvenience of the meters, but town officials said the parking program has been embraced.

“The vast majority of people in the downtown district applaud the parking management program,” Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said at a Friday news conference.

But Bay Shore Chamber of Commerce president Donna Periconi said her organization had to ask the town for the free parking before 6 p.m. policy, and that town officials have not been cooperative in addressing the concerns of local businesses and residents.

“The community is very upset about the meters and the parking lot,” Periconi said in an interview. “Our employees are the only employees in the Town of Islip that have to pay to go to work. We are the only hamlet in the Town of Islip that has meters.”

Town officials said the meters are necessary because the popularity of the Fire Island ferries and the influx of traffic to new downtown businesses have brought many new drivers to Bay Shore. “It would be government malpractice if we don’t at least try to find a way to try to manage this successfully,” Town Councilman Steve Flotteron said.

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The parking meter program started at the Maple Avenue docks near the Fire Island ferries two summers ago. It expanded to the hamlet’s Long Island Rail Road parking lot in January 2016, to the Bay Shore Marina last June and to Main Street in November. The lots behind Main Street were metered in May.

Town officials said the pilot program will expand to other popular shopping strips in Islip Town. The next phase was to involve downtown Islip village, but the plan is on hold after the town board failed to pass a bond vote to fund the meters.

Jason Fenley, a Bay Shore lawyer and Democratic candidate for the town board, said in a statement Monday that the changes do not fix the fundamental problem.

“Their parking meter program will continue to negatively impact this historic downtown, and for what purpose?” Fenley said in the statement. “Let’s call this what it is — a tax on Main Street, plain and simple.”

Periconi said an online petition to remove the meters has more than 2,000 signatures.

Maria Negron, owner of Pride Embroidery on Main Street, said the meters have helped her customers who used to circle the block for parking. “If they have no change, I give them a quarter because they’re going to spend more than a quarter in my store,” Negron said at Friday’s news conference.

Carpenter said the meters are here to stay. “The program you see today may not be the program you see six months from now, but you will have a parking management program,” she said. “There will be meters in downtown Bay Shore. That is a given.”