CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors Monday night approved a $350,000 contribution to help the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust acquire nearly 64 acres of open space next to Robinson Woods.
Councilors also postponed until fall further discussion about fees for tour buses and trolleys that use Fort Williams Park.
The proposal would charge $40 for each tour bus and $1,500 per season for the three trolleys that visit Fort Williams Park. It does not include fees for camp or recreational buses or for those associated with elder-care facilities.
Several residents and two representatives of local tour companies spoke against the proposal.
Jeanne McGurn, owner of the Maine Tour Connection on Ocean Street in South Portland, said it is discriminatory to charge entrance fees to motor coach groups and not for individual vehicles, campers and motorcycles. She said the motor coaches carry up to 40 passengers, who spend money at the gift shop and museum each season.
“By imposing these fees you are discriminating against senior and mature travelers,” she said. “The negative impact of this fee will be far reaching.”
Residents who voted against fees at the park in the past expressed concerns about the potential negative impact on food vendors and the park gift shop if fees are imposed.
Bill Enman of Spurwink Avenue said he is “sick and tired” of talking about entrance fees at Fort Williams.
“This is a waste of time and a waste of money,” Enman said. “We voted for no fees and I think that’s what the citizens meant.”
In 2006, the council sent a pay-and-display vehicle parking fee question to a referendum, but voters rejected it by a margin of nearly 3-1. In 2009, the commission proposed an entrance fee plan for trolleys, tour buses and buses associated with recreational programs, starting with the 2011 summer season.
In 2010, Town Manager Mike McGovern met with tour bus representatives to discuss the fee proposals, the council voted 5-2 for parking fees, and voters once again defeated a parking fee referendum by a 2-to-1 margin.
Following the June 2010 referendum, the council decided against moving forward with tour bus fees for the 2011 season, but agreed to consider fees in an overall plan for generating revenue for the park.
McGovern said while the latest proposal states that up to $36,000 could be generated from the bus and trolley fees, it does not include costs to collect the fees.
“My belief is that this needs more study and work,” he said.
Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta said while she appreciates the work of the commission, she needs more information regarding the cost of fee collection and expenses associated with the proposal.
She also said it is not fair to have fees for buses, but not for cars.
After an executive session and public comment period, councilors unanimously allocated $150,000 from a land acquisition fund and $200,000 from a 20-year bond to help purchase nearly 64 acres of land next to Robinson Woods.
Kayatta offered an addition to the proposal to encourage “a respectful discussion” between the land trust and the town regarding moving part of the Shore Road Pathway into the Robinson Woods property in order to save money and avoid construction along Shore Road.
She proposed the town and the trust work together to discuss the opportunity, which could potentially save up to $75,000 in pathway construction costs and maintain the rural character of Shore Road.
“In my mind there is not just one project,” she said, speaking of both the Robinson Woods II land acquisition and the Shore Road Pathway. “The second piece to this is that maybe we could save the taxpayers $75,000 in construction costs and avoid significant changes to Shore Road if the path were to be moved inland, and not right along Shore Road, as it is currently planned.”
The land acquisition would cost $1.1 million and nearly double the 80-acre Robinson Woods off Shore Road.
Chris Franklin, executive director of CELT, said a partnership with the town would help the organization reach its recreation and land conservation goals.
“Few decisions that this council, that this town can make that will be looked at 25, 50, even 100 years from now will have the type of lasting impact as acquisitions such as this,” he said. “The preservation of those select places in Cape Elizabeth is a gift for future generations.”
While Jim Schaffer of Shore Road, Ogden Williams of Beach Bluff Terrace and Pond Cove Elementary teacher Ingrid Stressenger enthusiastically supported the proposal to help acquire the land, Enman said he didn’t understand how the council could try to find savings in the budget and then spend $350,000 on land.
“The more money that goes into land trust, the higher our taxes go,” he said.
Councilor Jessica Sullivan said she struggled with the issue and is worried about borrowing $200,000. She said it is a wonderful opportunity, but it also creates more town debt.
“I am in favor of open space, but what comes back to me is that we are spending taxpayer money,” she said. “When we add to town debt we then require funds be paid by our citizens. What we decide here takes money from their pocket.”
The $350,000 will be transferred to the land trust after the funds needed to pay the $1.1 million is fully collected and when the town receives a public access easement over the trust property. If funds are not collected for the land, the $350,00 will be returned to the land acquisition fund.
The council also voted to refinance an existing bond borrowed in 2001 for renovation of the Public Safety building, the Community Center and other projects. McGovern said the refinancing could save the town up to $240,000, depending on interest rates.