CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council is continuing to push toward charging for parking at Fort Williams Park, despite two failed referendums on the matter.

This week, the council directed the Fort Williams Park Committee to research how it could be done.

The town had sent the question of implementing parking fees to referendum votes in 2006 and 2010, but both were defeated.

The issue of charging fees came back to the council in February and was discussed in two succeeding workshops. Town Manager Matt Sturgis told councilors Monday that he is looking for direction before moving forward.

Park committee Chairman Jim Walsh encouraged councilors not to send the question to another referendum, but to make the decision themselves.

“I think (making the decision) is what you folks were elected to do,” he said, noting that the committee backed them and would help in any way possible.

“You have a tough decision in front of you and the committee’s here to support and help,” Walsh said.

Sturgis estimated the town could bring in about $400,000 in the first year from pay-and-display meters, assuming a $2-an-hour fee for a minimum of two hours. Councilor Sara Lennon said she thought the fee could be higher – at least $3.

Included in the recently adopted $12.4 million town budget is $50,000 to implement pay-and-display parking meters at Fort Williams – if the council decides to institute a fee, which Sturgis said is “subject to much further discussion.”

Sturgis also suggested a lease-purchase agreement, if the council opts to install the meters, which he estimated would cost $4,000-$5,000 per pay station.

Because the park receives federal grants, fees would have to apply to all visitors, including town residents, although they could be charged a reduced, seasonal rate. Councilors may also consider charging out-of-state visitors more than Mainers, or some other tiered system.

Other variables could include weather and the duration of a fee-collecting season.

On Monday, councilors also discussed entrance fees at the gate, but most said that would not be the best option.

Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said pay-and-display had always been the “most attractive” means of charging to use the park.

Councilor Jamie Garvin said he was not opposed to the idea of parking fees, but would prefer to first exhaust all other possible revenue streams, including raising the ceiling for user fees for certain areas and amenities.

Garvin urged the council to take things slowly and gather concrete answers from the park committee on such things as how many cars the park can accommodate, how many out-of-state cars enter the park per week on average compared with Maine-registered vehicles, and if the meters could handle tiered fees.

“I’m not prepared to at all move forward with a decision on anything that is slightly more than back-of-the-napkin math,” Garvin said.

Read this story in the Forecaster.

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