Cape Elizabeth to increase fees at Fort Williams Park

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Fees at Fort Williams Park will increase this winter for the first time in four years.

The Town Council on Monday approved the increases, which will go into effect Dec. 1. Councilors said delaying the hikes until after the summer and fall seasons will give park users ample time to prepare for the higher fees.

While admission to the park is free for the general public, there are fees for tour buses, picnic shelter rentals, and group events.

According to the town, fees at the park have generated $43,000 to date in the current fiscal year. The increases are expected to add $7,000-$10,000 to the amount generated each year.

Most fees will rise $5-$10, but some will increase as much as $250. According to the town website, the average increase is 10 percent.

The increases were recommended to the council by the Fort Williams Advisory Commission. Some increases were approved as recommended, but councilors opted for a smaller-than-suggested increase for tour buses.

Councilor Kathy Ray was the only councilor to vote against the increases; she said they weren’t high enough.

If the council had approved the recommendations as presented, the increases would have generated $10,000-$15,000 per year.

The current fee for tour buses is $40 per visit, and the advisory commission recommended increasing it to $55. Councilors chose to only increase it to $50.

Jeanne Gross, director of the museum and gift shop at Fort Williams, wrote an email to Town Manager Mike McGovern suggesting the smaller increase of $50. She said tour companies already feel that the town is “taking advantage of people” who want to see the Portland Head Light.

“Ever since the parking fee was initiated in 2012 there has been constant, negative feedback from the tour operators,” Gross said in the email. “Our department is responsible for collecting the parking fees and we have to very carefully and respectfully deal with these disgruntled tour companies.”

Mark Russell, the commission chairman, said the $15 increase was recommended for tour buses because the commission believes it is affordable for the tour companies.

“For people who are bringing other individuals into the park and generating their own revenue from that, we felt that that was a place that we could go,” Russell said on the town website. “I don’t mean to be trite, but when Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks he said, ‘that’s where the money is.’ This is where the money is in the park.”

Fees for trolley companies, which were approved as recommended, were increased by $200. The current fee of $1,500 per season will increase to $1,700.

Other large fee increases include going from $1,750 to $2,000 per day for out-of-state companies shooting video at the park. Also, renting a picnic shelter on the hill and cliff side sections of the park will increase from $600 to $700 for a full day and from $400 to $500 for a half day.

Picnic shelters in other parts of the park also will see fee increases, ranging from $5 to $50, depending on the length of the rental, whether the renter is a resident, and whether the renter is a nonprofit company.

The fee for holding a wedding ceremony at the park will increase from $150 to $175.

Some fees will remain unchanged, including the $25,000 fee paid to the park by the annual TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race.

The full list of fee increases can be found on the town website.

It was a Town Council goal for 2016 to increase revenue at the park. In October councilors discussed establishing parking fees at the park, but the council ultimately decided not to do so.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, where some user fees will increase Dec. 1.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.