Cape Elizabeth voters will weigh in on proposed parking fees at Fort Williams Park in a non-binding referendum Tuesday, the second vote on the thorny issue in four years.

Fees would be collected from April 1 to Nov. 1. Daily parking would be $5. Annual passes would cost $10 for town residents and $20 for non-residents. Certain community events would be exempt.

The Town Council has already approved the plan, but decided to ask residents whether they support a “pay/display” program. The name comes from the kiosks that would accept cash or credit card payments and dispense tickets that visitors would place on their dashboards.

Proponents of the plan say it would help defray the cost of maintaining the 90-acre park. But opponents have organized a campaign to defeat the plan, saying the park is a resource that should be shared freely — especially with people who can’t afford the cost of parking.

The town spends about $250,000, including equipment and employee salaries, to maintain the park each year. That figure is growing, said Town Manager Michael McGovern, and does not include the capital improvement needs of the park. They range from more immediate issues such as bleacher repairs and tree maintenance, to larger projects like the preservation of Goddard Mansion. The town’s budget for municipal services in the coming fiscal year held steady at $8.5 million.

In November 2006, residents voted 3,145 to 1,951 against a somewhat different proposal to charge non-residents for parking at the fort.

Councilor David Sherman said he has heard from many residents how economic times have changed since 2006. Sherman said the proposed fees could help maintain or refurbish structures that need attention — without raising taxes.

“It seems reasonable to me to ask people who use the park to pay a modest fee,” said Sherman, who was among the five councilors on the seven-member council to support the plan.

So far, Sherman said, charitable donations haven’t been able to meet all the park’s needs. According to the town, the Fort Williams Charitable Foundation has contributed about $30,000 to the park over the past 10 years, and donations have amounted to about $12,000 in the same time period.

The parking fee program is expected to generate more than $400,000 a year.

A group called Citizens for a Free Fort Williams has been working to defeat the proposal. Members have bought newspaper ads, put up yard signs, called neighbors and distributed literature door-to-door, said Betty Crane, the group’s treasurer.

“I think we have a moral obligation. We own this absolutely beautiful piece of property — possibly the most beautiful property on the East Coast — and we should share it, especially with people who cannot afford fees,” said Crane, a former member of the town’s Fort Williams Advisory Commission and a current foundation board member.

Crane is frustrated, in part, because she believes that suggestions to raise revenue have not been heeded. Those ideas run the gamut from concessions to adding a picnic shelter for rentals or making a tent available for weddings.

The fort advisory commission recommended a parking fee program after the Town Council asked it to find ways to make the park self-sustaining.

“We felt as a group — because we voted to present it — this was the best of the choices we could put forth,” said Maureen McCarthy, the commission chairwoman. “Whether we felt it was appropriate or not, we left on the table because we were tasked with coming up with a fee structure.”

The commission had recommended hourly rather than daily fees, but McCarthy said the concept remains the same: pay/display machines around the fort rather than individual meters or gate fees. 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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