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Cape Elizabeth Town Council sets Fort Williams parking fees, plans advisory referendum

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Cape Elizabeth Town Council sets Fort Williams parking fees, plans advisory referendum

CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors on Feb. 8 approved parking fees at Fort Williams Park starting in April 2011, including annual permits for residents and non-residents.

Voters will be given one more opportunity to express their opinion in a non-binding referendum in June.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said the the referendum vote will be advisory and apply only to a proposed pay-and-display parking system. After the referendum, he said, the council can opt to reconsider its decision or proceed with the parking fees. 

The annual budget for Fort Williams Park in fiscal year 2009 is $347,000, according to the Fort Williams Advisory Commission. Parking fees would generate about $285,000 in the first year, the commission says, and $310,000 by the second. Start-up costs and annual budget increases associated with the pay-and-display system could total more than $112,000.

Residents voted against parking fees in a referendum in November 2006, when the question was "Would you favor the Town establishing a 'pay/display' parking fee for non-residents at Fort Williams Park to help support park maintenance and improvements?"

It was rejected by a vote of 3,145 to 1,951.

On Monday, motions to charge fees and to hold another referendum both passed 5-2, as the council tackled how to make Fort Williams self-sustaining by breaking the issue into five separate questions.

All councilors agreed the park should be free of entrance fees and all revenue generated will be used for park maintenance, operation and capital needs. They also agreed that fees will be collected from the nearly 800 tour, camp and recreation buses that visit the park each year.

But they did not agree on the parking fees proposed by the Fort Williams commission: $5 for daily parking with a pay/display system, $10 for annual parking for residents and $20 for non-resident annual parking.

Although it failed 4-3, Councilor Penny Jordan offered an amendment to the fee schedule that would have waived the resident fee. She was supported by Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayata and Councilor Jessica Sullivan.

A counter amendment was offered by Councilor Sara Lennon to increase resident and non-resident fees to $25, but it failed with only the support of Councilor Jim Walsh.

The fee schedule was finally passed as proposed, 5-2, without the support of Jordan and Sullivan. Fees will not apply to those attending scheduled sports events, the annual Cape Elizabeth High School commencement ceremony, Family Fun Day and the Engine One Art Show.

The advisory referendum on the implementation of a pay-and-display parking fee will read "Would you favor the Town establishing a 'pay/display' parking program for Fort Williams Park?" The vote will most likely take place June 8, the same date as a planned school budget validation referendum.

Councilors Lennon and Walsh voted against holding a referendum. Walsh said elected officials should conduct town business and a referendum would delay the process of making the park self-sufficient. He also questioned how often politically charged items would be sent to the public.

"I fully appreciate going back to the citizens, but three years is a long time and a lot has happened (since November 2006)," he said. "Time is of the essence."

Lennon was concerned there would be no more options for self-sustainability if the parking fees are voted down.

"It's hike taxes, or the fort crumbles," she said.

Councilors also voted 6-1 to collect parking fees for picnic shelter renters as part of the rental agreement. Jordan was the lone dissenting vote.

Town Manager Mike McGovern was instructed to propose bus fees to the council no later than July 15, and the Fort Williams Advisory Commission will propose a fee schedule for special events and additional income from concessions and new park uses by Dec. 31.

Swift-Kayatta encouraged all residents to vote in the June referendum.

"We all want to keep Fort Williams the special and wonderful place that it is today," she said.

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