Discussion continues on Fort Williams bus fees

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Residents will have another opportunity to express their opinions about commercial bus fees at Fort Williams Park in a Nov. 14 public hearing.

The Town Council will revisit a recommendation by the Fort Williams Advisory Commission to charge a $40 entry fee for tour buses, and a seasonal charge of $1,500 for trolleys that visit the park next year.

The recommendation does not include a charge for camp and recreation program buses, buses related to municipal recreational programs or small buses and vans operated by elderly care facilities such as Village Crossings, Piper Shores or the South Portland Housing Authority.

Councilors indicated support for the recommendation at an Oct. 3 workshop, with only Councilors Anne Swift-Kayatta and Chairman David Sherman opposed to the proposed fees.

Residents who spoke during a council meeting Wednesday expressed opinions that ranged from full support to disbelief.

Betty Crane of Starboard Drive said the proposal to charge commercial buses is good and fair.

“No way are the citizens of Cape Elizabeth morally wrong in charging the buses,” Crane said. “Buses are making money on the tour, it’s as simple as that. There’s no conflict between families driving in and bus tours who want to be in an easy position of seeing the lighthouse, the views, the museum, shops and thoroughly enjoy themselves.”

But Paul Brown, also of Starboard Drive, said he cannot believe fees of any sort are on the table again after voters twice defeated referendums for parking fees.

“We are not putting a charge on the bus, on the machine that brings them in, the charge goes to those people,” he said. “If it’s going to cost more money, then bring it on. Because we want that place to be free.”

Harry Hardy of Charles Road said the bus fee sounds like a “cover charge for senior citizens.”

“I haven’t been in a place that charges a cover charge in years, but when I did it wasn’t to go buy a trinket,” he said.

Other than Swift-Kayatta, who said she feels the bus fee proposal is “inherently unfair” and “has a lot of practical problems,” councilors refrained from comment.

They also asked for additional information: the demographics of the cruise ships to get a better idea of who is participating in the tours, other tour bus destinations and their costs.

With Councilor Jessica Sullivan absent, and the council voted 6-0 to hold a public hearing on the proposal on Monday, Nov. 14.

Councilors also approved a recommendation from the Rescue Study Committee to supplement the on-call rescue volunteer service with an advanced life support provider or paramedic.

The committee – Fire Chief Peter Gleeson, Deputy Chief Jim Wilson, rescue Capt. Steve Peters, three rescue lieutenants and a rescue member – was asked to determine if the current system of covering emergency calls is meeting the needs of the community and fulfilling Maine emergency service requirements.

According to Gleeson, the position would help when Cape services are need in South Portland, reduce call times, and provide additional coverage when necessary.

The council voted unanimously to add the paramedic on a per-diem basis for nine or 10 hours a day, seven days a week, starting Jan. 1, 2012. Funds to pay for the position – up to nearly $76,400 per year – would come out of the reserve special fund.

Councilors also approved the master plan for the Arboretum at Fort Williams Park and set public hearings on Nov. 14 to address amendments to the Miscellaneous Offenses Ordinance, which would regulate consumer fireworks and rooster owners.

The Nov. 14 meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

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