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Fort Williams fee support gains momentum in Cape

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Fort Williams fee support gains momentum in Cape

CAPE ELIZABETH — Residents at a Curtailment Committee meeting Dec. 8 said they would support implementing fees at Fort Williams and a pay-per-bag trash system at the transfer station to offset the $621,000 curtailment imposed on Cape schools for the current school year.

Fees to access Fort Williams Park have been discussed by the town and defeated by voters in the past, yet the Town Council is considering a new proposal that would charge park users for parking in an attempt to raise revenue for the town. That proposal will be presented at a forum Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Cape Elizabeth Town Hall. Public comment will be accepted.

At the Dec. 8 meeting, nearly 100 residents, parents, administrators and teachers gathered together and offered ideas to generate funds for the schools and save money in the near future.

The seven-member curtailment ad hoc committee was formed by the School Board in response to the announcement made in November by Gov. John Baldacci that $63 million would be cut from the state budget, including a $38 million reduction in the state's general purpose aid to education. In Cape Elizabeth, that reduction meant a loss of $621,000 in the 2009-2010 budget, and a significant proposed reduction in state aide for the 2010-2011 school year.

The committee includes School Board Chairwoman Rebecca Millett and member Kathy Ray, Town Council Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayatta, Councilor Sara Lennon, Tim Thompson as representative of the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation, Dwight Ely of the Cape Elizabeth Educational Administrators Association, and Matt Miklavic, a student representative. Ex officio members include Business Manager Pauline Aportria, Town Manager Mike McGovern and Superintendent of Schools Alan Hawkins.

Millett, chairwoman of the Curtailment Committee, said that after the public workshop Dec. 8 the group took the suggestions and identified common ideas and feasible solutions.

"We went over the comments generated from the workshop and found the most consistent ideas on both the municipal and school sides," she said. "We shared our thoughts on the ideas and collected the most common."

Millett said on the municipal side, the majority of the public favored charging fees at Fort Williams and implementing a pay-per-bag system at the transfer station. She said another popular opinion was to examine public safety costs as a way to reduce costs.

"Many people suggested consolidating or reducing the number of fire trucks or police vehicles," she said. "Another idea we saw repeatedly was to reassess the Planning Department."

On the school side, Millett said transportation was mentioned numerous times as a way to generate revenue, but she said the schools are limited by state law, and cannot charge to transport children to school.

"There are other areas where we can address transportation and save money," she said. Student parking fees can be raised, and the 4 p.m. bus that runs for students participating in after school activities can be cancelled, she said.

Other popular ideas for saving money at the schools included freezing teacher salaries, inviting international tuition students and finding ways to generate revenue through sports.

As far as public opinion on raising taxes, Millett said residents favor a balanced approach.

"No one wants to raise taxes just to raise taxes," she said. "People are accepting of a tax increase if it is in conjunction with revenue generating activities."

Next, Millett said members of the Curtailment Committee will report the most popular trends to the Town Council, School Board, CEEF and the teacher's union so decisions can be made about how best to handle the curtailment order. She said the group will not meet again in January.

"We are not happy with the state funding formula, and are working with our legislators," she said. "We will do all we can to address this problem."

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net