Cape Elizabeth Town Council revives debate on fees for Fort Williams Park tour buses

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Depending on the outcome of renewed Town Council discussions, commercial buses and trolleys may have to pay entrance fees at Fort Williams Park in 2012.

In a workshop on Monday, Oct. 3, councilors reviewed the recommendations of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission to charge $40 for each commercial bus and $1,500 for each trolley that visits the park.

Past attempts to generate park revenue from entrance or parking fees have been unsuccessful, starting in 2006 when the council sent a pay-and-display vehicle parking fee to a referendum, and voters rejected it by a margin of nearly 3-1.

Then, in 2009, the commission proposed implementing entrance fees, starting in 2011, for trolleys, tour buses and buses associated with recreational programs. In February 2010, the council unanimously agreed to have Town Manager Mike McGovern meet with tour bus representatives to discuss fee proposals.

But last year, after councilors voted 5-2 for vehicle parking fees, voters again defeated that proposal, by a 2-to-1 margin.

The council decided to not to move forward with tour bus fees for the 2011 season, but agreed to consider fees in an overall plan for generating revenue for the park.

At Monday’s workshop, McGovern said the net revenue generated from the bus and trolley fees would be close to $30,000 a year.

Councilors Caitlin Jordan and Anne Swift-Kayatta said they are concerned that charging commercial buses to visit the park would have a negative effect on Portland Head Light museum and gift shop sales.

Swift-Kayatta said she does not think it is a good or practical idea to charge buses.

“Voters said no fees … and I’m taking them at their word,” she said.

Chairman David Sherman said he, too, is not in favor of charging buses.

“So I guess keep it free means keep it free, except for people who get on a bus,” he said.

But Councilors James Walsh, Jessica Sullivan, Sara Lennon and Frank Governali said they support a fee of $40 per bus.

Lennon said buses create diesel fuel pollution and traffic and parking problems. She said $40 would be a nominal fee in exchange for “a lot of wear and tear on the fort.”

“We are not charging the individual, we are charging the company,” she said Monday. “They’re making a really big profit on our park; we just want a tiny little bit of it. I feel like that’s fair.”

Governali said the buses are a commercial enterprise and, like the food vendors who make money in the park, should be charged to be there.   

“We have a precedent to charging commercial enterprises for using the park and making money, and these buses are making money,” he said. 

At their Wednesday, Oct. 12 meeting, councilors are expected to set a public hearing on commercial bus fees for Nov. 14.

The council will also review the Fort Williams Park Arboretum plan and leases for tenants at the Officer’s Row buildings at Fort Williams. They will also set Nov. 14 as the date for a series of public hearings, including proposed changes to the Miscellaneous Offenses Ordinance concerning roosters and fireworks.

The Oct. 12 meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.