CAPE ELIZABETH — After pushback from tour operators, the Town Council on Monday reduced recently enacted fees for motor coaches and buses at Fort Williams Park from $150 to $100 per trip.
The vote was 4-2, with Councilors Valerie Deveraux and Chris Straw in the minority.
The council also reviewed a proposal from a Portland-based parking management company for pay-and-display meters at the park.
In 2018, the fee for motor coaches and buses was $50 per visit, and $45 with a “motor coach volume discount” after 75 visits.
The Fort Williams Park Committee initially recommended raising that to $75/$70 for the 2019 season. But the council in last November unanimously voted to increase all commercial fees more substantially, including hiking fees for trolleys from $1,700 per season to $3,000 and tripling the fee for motor coaches and buses from $50 to $150 a trip.
The council was asked to reconsider the commercial fees for motor coaches during the public comment portion of its Dec. 10, 2018, meeting.
“Several tour operators have come to us and expressed concerns,” Chairman Jamie Garvin said. “… Not just with the amount of increase … but that lack of sort of ramp time to that increase.”
On Monday, Chris Rackmyre, general manager of The Maine Tour Connection, said the company expected some increase in fees, but not as much as $100.
The tight timeframe in which The Maine Tour Connection would have to adjust to the change, she said, is an issue because they typically book coaches 18 months in advance.
“So at this point, we’ve already booked out 2019, so for us, we’ve got about 230-250 buses that will be coming through,” she said. “… We can’t go back to the companies we’ve contracted, so we’re looking at you to reconsider that triple jump.”
On the other hand, Shannon O’Meara, of Ivy Road, said she doesn’t think the fees are high enough. Several councilors agreed.
Straw said he has not heard any objection to fee increases from residents, only from those with a “vested financial interest from a business perspective.”
“These fees were (never) etched in stone. … You knew they were subject to change,” Straw said. “I feel bad for you as a human being that you may lose money for a single season, but for the last few seasons, we as a town have been subsidizing you. … If anything, I’m ready to vote the fees higher. A hundred and fifty dollars is a good deal. You should take it.”
Garvin agreed, saying he would like to see the fees eventually go up to $150, or “as high as the market will bear,” but acknowledged the council should take a more “graduated” approach.
With that, councilors voted to reduce this year’s motor coach fees from $150 to $100, and $90 after a motor coach or bus completes its 75th trip.
“We’re pretty much saying right now, plan on it going up,” Councilor Caitlin Jordan said. “… This is as much fair warning as you could possibly have.”
The town in 2006 and 2010 has defeated referendums to institute pay-and-display parking at Fort Williams Park.
But in June 2018, councilors again asked the Fort Williams Park Committee to research how a system could be adopted, and received a report produced by a subcommittee. In November, councilors gave Town Manager Matt Sturgis the go-ahead to seek proposals for pay-and-display parking management, enforcement and equipment.
Sturgis said four companies attended a pre-bid meeting in December, but only one submitted a response to the request for proposals. The proposal from Unified Parking Partners meets “every attribute that was sought,” according to Sturgis.
The RFP was for a four-year contract, subject to cancellation for any reason with 60 days’ notice.
UPP would charge an average parking fee of $4 per hour for 270 spaces from May 1-Oct. 31, and would keep 20 percent of the net profits. The annual revenue is projected to be more than $396,000, with almost $317,000 going to the town and $79,200 going to UPP. Additionally, UPP said it would cap its profits at $100,000 for any individual year during the duration of the contract.
“They’ve really come to the table with a significant offering,” Sturgis said. “… It’s conservative at this point … in terms of revenue projections.”
Councilor Jeremy Gabrielson had concerns that the per-hour rate would result in “unintended consequences,” such as increased street parking outside of the park.
Sturgis said UPP’s proposal, as well as parking ordinances that would coincide with pay-and-display parking, will be on the agenda for a March 18 workshop, with council action possible in April.
The Cape Elizabeth Town Council on Feb. 11 discussed commercial bus fees and pay-and-display vehicle parking at Fort Williams.