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Opinions mixed in Cape Elizabeth workshop on fees at Fort Williams

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Opinions mixed in Cape Elizabeth workshop on fees at Fort Williams

CAPE ELIZABETH — Although voters rejected non-resident fees for use of Fort Williams Park in November 2006, the discussion has resurfaced in anticipation of tighter budgets in coming years.

At a Town Council workshop Monday night, about 50 residents gathered to hear about the Fort Williams Advisory Commission's report recommending a fee structure for residents, non-residents and tour buses from April through October.

And in a change of format, they were given the opportunity to voice their opinions during the workshop. About 25 residents spoke to the council and expressed mixed feelings about implementing fees at the park.

Resident Jack Sears said that by reopening the fee discussion, the town has ignored the vote of the people.

"This feels disingenuous," he said. "The people already voted 62 to 38 percent against charging fees and the committee has ignored the town's vote."

But resident Dan Fishbein said given the lack of state funding, the opposition to increased property taxes, the lack of businesses and new homes in Cape Elizabeth, the charges sound reasonable and consistent with other recreation fees in the area.

He suggested using concession stands as a way to increase revenue in the park – an artist booth, a seasonal food cart, or retail and vending possibilities. None of these ideas would restrict anyone's access to the open space, he said.

Resident Frank Strout said he voted against the fees in 2006, but is now neutral about the fees.

"Times are different now," he said. "These times are challenging and there are budget constraints."

Strout said he is concerned that residents will have to pay to use the park, but believes the proposal is fair.

Overall, residents were clear that if there are fees, the revenue should be dedicated to park maintenance.

The goal of the commission was to find ways to make the park self-sustaining. Its consensus was that parking fees would be preferable to entrance fees because they would "present fewer implementation problems and would interfere less with the traditional uses of the park."

A few of the highlights from the commission's report include charging $10 for annual resident parking passes and $20 for annual passes used by non-residents. Tour bus and trolley charges are also suggested, as well as an hourly parking fee using a pay-and-display system.

Town Council Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayatta said the council will discuss the report and the public comments at another workshop session on Jan. 25. She said a decision could be made as soon as the council's next regular meeting on Feb. 8.

She encouraged residents to read the entire report and to contact councilors via e-mail with additional questions or comments.

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