Voters in Cape Elizabeth decided Tuesday to reject an advisory referendum on charging for parking at Fort Williams, the home to Portland Head Light.

Residents voted 67 to 33 percent against the council-supported measure.

“It turned out exactly as I expected,” said Town Manager Michael McGovern. “I think the council will be considering the results from the vote.”

In other ballot items, residents approved a $20 million school budget by a margin of 71 to 29 percent. Residents also voted 74 to 26 percent to continue the budget validation referendum process in Cape Elizabeth for an additional three years.

The turnout was large, driven by interest in the advisory referendum on Fort Williams.

Maureen McCarthy of Stonybrook Road, who serves on the town’s Fort Williams Advisory Commission, volunteered at the polls before they closed on Tuesday.

She said she expected residents would defeat the proposal, based on the number of signs around town that read, “Keep the Fort Free, Vote NO.”

“Personally, I see the fort crumbling apart,” McCarthy said. “I don’t believe the town can get away with raising sufficient taxes, in the economy we are in, to support taking care of the structures that are crumbling apart.”

On Feb. 8, the Town Council approved a set of fees for parking at Fort Williams. Visitors would pay $5 per day and the ticket would be displayed on the driver’s dashboard. Annual passes would cost $10 for Cape Elizabeth residents and $20 for non-residents.

After the vote in February, the council agreed to give residents the final say before implementing any fees.

Supporters of the proposal said a modest parking fee was necessary to meet the growing financial needs of the park. The town spends an estimated $250,000 a year to maintain the park, buy equipment and fund employees’ salaries.

Town officials say the cost of maintaining the park’s ponds, trees and vegetation continues to rise. To make matters worse, many buildings, old military structures, pathways, stairways and roadways are deteriorating.

Critics of the parking fees don’t like the idea of charging at a park where admission has always been free.

Betty Crane, the treasurer for Citizens for a Free Fort Williams, said she felt encouraged by Tuesday’s turnout. Crane said she held a sign at the entrance of Cape Elizabeth High School, where voting took place, and greeted residents.

“I hope it will go down by at least a two-to-one margin,” Crane said. “We did the best we could.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]

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