CAPE ELIZABETH — Fort Williams Park will continue to be free for visitors after the Town Council on June 14 unanimously voted against charging parking fees.
The council also voted 6-1 against pursuing tour bus fees in the 2011 season.
Councilors reversed their Feb. 8 vote for a pay-and-display parking system in the wake of a June 8 advisory referendum where residents voted 2,532 to 1,262 against charging fees.
Council Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayatta said the election results made two things very clear to her.
“People love Fort Williams; no matter how they voted, they love the fort,” she said. “Secondly, they don’t want the fort to be paid for with parking fees on cars.”
This is the second time Cape citizens have voted against charging fees for vehicles at Fort Williams. In a November 2006 referendum residents rejected a pay-and-display proposal 3,145 to 1,951.
The tour bus fee proposal would have levied a $35 one-time use fee or a $1,000 annual fee for trolleys or buses that make more than 30 visits per season to the park.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said he met with representatives of tour bus and trolley companies, the Greater Portland Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and the Portland Head Light Museum to discuss the fee structure. He said concerns were voiced about fee inequality and high rates.
McGovern advised councilors to to be cautious about approving fees for only buses and trolleys, when no other visitors would be charged.
McGovern also said while the nearly 800 buses could bring in about $30,000 in fees, the cost of employing an attendant to collect those fees would be about $22,000. The profit, after expenses would be about $8,000, he said. If there were more buses, the profit would increase, but if the fee structure became a deterrent, the profit would fall, he said.
In addition, McGovern said the buses provide about 33 percent of the the gross income at the Portland Head Light Museum, and said jeopardizing the sales at the gift shops may be unwise.
Councilor David Sherman said the bus fee should be a matter of fairness and equity.
“The town citizens spoke loud and clear and they want the park to be free for visitors and I just cannot come up with a difference between somebody who happens to enter the park by car versus by tour bus,” he said.
Councilor Jessica Sullivan was the lone vote in favor of moving forward with bus fees. She said tour buses are commercial, for-profit entities and are different from private vehicles. She said charging bus fees would be a way to approach the “daunting financial challenges facing the fort.”
Councilors unanimously agreed to schedule a workshop to discuss the park’s capital needs and it’s potential sources of funding.
The Fort Williams Advisory Commission was scheduled to review citizen suggestions for generating revenue for the park at a 7 p.m. meeting at the Public Works facility on Cooper Drive on Thursday, June 17.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 7813661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org