No one has ever paid a fee to enter Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, but on Monday night that long-standing policy could be changed by members of the Town Council.

Councilors are expected to hold a public hearing before voting on a proposal that would give the town the authority to charge tour buses a $40 entrance fee to the 90-acre park which is also home to historic Portland Head Light.

The proposal, called a commercial passenger transportation fee, was crafted by members of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission. It would also allow the town to assess an annual, flat fee of $1,500 on each of the three Portland-based trolleys that take passengers on tours of Fort Williams.

Those trolleys are owned by Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours, which is located on Portland’s Long Wharf.

David S. Sherman Jr., chairman of the Town Council, said the proposal will likely be adopted. A recent workshop on the matter indicated that five of seven councilors support tour bus and trolley fees, Sherman said.

Sherman said he will vote against the fees because he doesn’t believe they are fair.

“If we end up charging people from away,” Sherman said, referring to the tourists that ride buses and trolleys, “it would seem to me that we are not sharing this wonderful treasure with the rest of the world.”

In June of 2010, following a citizen advisory referendum, the Town Council voted to halt plans for a pay and display system that would have required passenger cars to pay for parking at Fort Williams.

Councilors also voted to suspend a separate plan for collecting parking fees for tour buses, trolleys or cruise ship visitors for the 2011 season.

Bill Nickerson, chairman of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission, said the council asked the commission to take a closer look at tour bus and trolley fees, which led to the current proposal.

The proposed entrance fees would not apply to summer camp or recreation programs buses, or to small buses and vans operated by elderly care facilities or an agency such as the South Portland Housing Authority.

Nickerson estimates the fees could generate about $36,000 a year in revenues, funds that would be dedicated toward the care and maintenance of the park and its buildings.

Those revenues could go toward rebuilding the bleachers on the parade ground, which are used for high school graduations, or for repairs to the Goddard Mansion, Nickerson said.

Nickerson said the town’s decision to allow food vendors in the park on a trial basis this year generated $11,000 in revenues.

Nickerson said the Fort Williams Advisory Commission will meet Nov. 17 to discuss whether food vendors should be allowed to return in 2012.

“A lot of people think Fort Williams is our gift to the greater community but to me it’s a little different slant when you are talking about people who just got off a cruise ship and are not members of our community,” Nickerson said. Nickerson said a system for collecting the fees has not been worked out.

In 2010, a total of 784 tour buses visited Fort Williams. A big part of the attraction is Portland Head Light, which was built in the late 1700s.

But Kathy Frappier, who operates Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours with her husband, Bill, said they may decide to avoid taking trips to Fort Williams if they are forced to pay a fee.

She said her customers typically spend money at the lighthouse gift shop, which is operated by the town.

“I totally agree that there is a need to raise money to maintain the park,” Frappier said, adding that there are better ways to do that such as expanding the gift shop, adding a concession stand or small restaurant, and letting food vendors operate at the park.

“It could turn Fort Williams into a destination if it were done tastefully,” Frappier suggested.

Monday’s council meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in Cape Elizabeth Town Hall.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]