Fort Williams fees among budget-balancing options in Cape Elizabeth

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Aware of the foreboding financial outlook for the coming year, the newly elected Town Council and Chairwoman Ann Swift-Kayatta took steps to save money at their first meeting Monday, Dec. 14.

Councilors accepted a report developed by the Fort Williams Park Advisory Commission proposing ways to make Fort Williams Park financially self-sustaining.

Included are recommendations to collect hourly parking fees from passenger cars and small vehicles using a pay-and-display system, while annual parking passes would be available to residents for $10 and to non-residents for $20.

Buses associated with a seasonal recreation program will be charged $30 per bus, and trolleys or shuttle buses that visit the park regularly will be assessed an annual fee of $1,000. Tour buses visiting the park as part of a cruise ship visit will be charged $40; the bus tour entities will be billed through a system to be developed by the town and the Portland Head Light museum.

The commission also proposes instituting other fees for the use of the picnic shelter, and parking will be charged for those using the playground, pet recreation areas, and the multi-purpose field unless the fee is waived for special circumstances.

Due to the need of the travel industry to report access fees in its basic costs, the recommendation is to begin the bus fee schedule in 2011 and the pay-and-display system next year.

“The Commission feels strongly that money raised in the Park should be dedicated to supporting the Park,” the report states.

To set up the pay-and-display system, the commission said an estimated $112,500 is needed up front. The expenses include the purchase of 10 parking meters, a utility vehicle for parking enforcement, signs, and the cost to reconfigure the old main entrance to eliminate parking adjacent to Shore Road.

In addition, the report includes an estimate of annual expenses near $15,000 for an additional park ranger, supplies and unexpected repairs.

The commission recommends the pursuit of “other possible means to raise revenue,” including construction of a second picnic shelter, a seasonal structure, a picnic area near the beach and opening the Officer’s Row buildings to a wider range of concessions and tenants.

Councilors agreed to review the commission’s recommendations at a workshop early in 2010.

In other business, Town Manager Mike McGovern said the town and school budgets have accrued a considerable savings thanks to the refinancing of 1998 and 1999 bonds. He said over the life of the replacement bonds – from 2010 to 2020 – the town will save $510,000 and the schools will save $232,000, a total savings of $742,000.

The most savings will occur within the next few years, and the interest rates have been reduced by two-thirds, McGovern said.

The council voted 7-0 to credit the School Department $73,100 for its portion of the premium.

“The town is incredibly lucky to have such an experienced Town Manager,” Swift-Kayatta said. “He single-handedly managed to get us $200,000 through his performance and efforts.”

In addition to the savings generated from the bond, the council approved a grant application to the Maine Public Utilities Commission for $85,000 to upgrade lighting in the schools and community building. They also approved $52,000 of unallocated funds from a 2008 bond to be used as the matching portion of the grant.

The estimated payback period for the electricity charges is 2.4 years, and return of the local investment is about one year.

Approval of the grant application could save the town about $56,000 a year for 15 years, or a total of $846,000.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or