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Cape Elizabeth expected to vote again on Fort Williams fees

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Cape Elizabeth expected to vote again on Fort Williams fees

CAPE ELIZABETH — Although they voted overwhelmingly three years ago against charging fees at Fort Williams Park, residents are now likely to have a chance to change their minds.

At a Town Council workshop on Monday, Jan. 25, councilors informally agreed to send the parking fee proposal out to another referendum.

Councilors are expected to vote on the matter on Monday, Feb. 8. They could schedule the question to coincide with a school budget referendum that's likely in May or June.

The fees are a part of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission's recommendations for making the park, home of Portland Head Light, financially self-sustaining.

The commission's fee proposal includes hourly parking fees for passenger cars using so-called pay-and-display kiosks located around the park. It also includes charges for buses – $40 when associated with cruise ship tours, or $50 if not associated with a cruise ship. Trolleys would pay a $1,000 annual fee and seasonal recreational buses would be charged $30 per bus.

The commission also recommends parking fees for visitors using the picnic shelter, rental facilities, multi-purpose fields, playground and pet areas, unless waived by a special event or by the Town Council. Annual parking passes would be $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents.

No parking fees are proposed for educational group buses or tenants of the rental units on Officers Row.

Councilors Jessica Sullivan and Penny Jordan opposed the fees, but other councilors said it was a way to make the park self-sustaining.

Jordan said charging fees at the park may send a message to surrounding communities that Cape Elizabeth is exclusive, and she said she would rather keep Fort Williams open to everyone.

"I believe we have to be willing to continue to share the fort," she said. "I believe the intent of the fort was to be open to people in all communities."

But Councilors Sara Lennon, David Sherman, Frank Governali, Jim Walsh and Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayatta agreed it is necessary to impose a fee schedule to pay for the operating and long-term capitol needs of the park.

In addition, all councilors but Walsh agreed it is wise to send the parking fee proposal to a referendum instead of making a council decision.

Walsh said as elected officials, their job is to conduct the town's business. A public vote will delay the implementation of fees until fall, she said, after the peak, summer season.

But Swift-Kayatta said a referendum is still likely if the council does not send the issue directly to the public. It will take only 10 percent of the town's population, or 900 signatures, she said, to sign a petition challenging the council decision.

"I think we just buy ourselves a whole mess of trouble anyway, if we do it ourselves," she said.

Sherman said because the economic climate and pressure on the municipal budget is so different than three years ago, the public may have a different opinion now.

“I don't like the thought of another referendum vote, but we can't ignore the history of what has happened,” he said.

Sherman said a council vote on the fee schedule would be disrespectful to residents who rejected the proposal in November 2006. That vote was 3,145 to 1,951 against fees at the park.

Councilors also said while the pay-and-display issue should be tackled by the public, they want to decide the fee schedule associated with tour buses, trolleys and other commercial vehicles separately.

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