CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — The Town Council is considering parking fees as a way to raise revenue at Fort Williams Park.
Councilors on Oct. 14 decided to look into revenue options for the park as a goal for 2016. Councilor Jim Walsh made the proposal, with the suggestion of having nonresidents pay to park at Fort Williams.
“I believe it’s something we ought to dust off and look at and at least give it the daylight it requires,” he said.
Cape Elizabeth has put the question of parking fees to voters twice, in 2006 and in 2010; it was defeated both times. Walsh said it’s worth looking at again because of the increasing cost to maintain the park.
Citing past budgets, Walsh said the cost to run the park in 2010 was $158,000 and it generated $28,000 in revenue. This year, the operating cost was $224,000, with revenue of $182,000. Walsh said the cost will continue to rise because of improvement projects at the park.
This summer the Fort Williams Advisory Commission presented a plan to the Town Council for the construction of an amphitheater. It would take a couple of years to build and would cost $500,000.
The project coincides with removing the bleachers at the park’s softball diamond, which is expected to cost $120,000.
Walsh said residents have also been asking councilors to build bathrooms at the park, fix the sidewalks, and widen the park access road.
“When you look at those types of things that people want, invested infrastructure, there’s a lot of money on the table,” Walsh said. “I don’t think the taxpayer should be burdened with all that and I believe that one of the opportunities is for us to do a passive pay-and-display process.”
Passive pay-and-display would include machines in parking lots where visitors pre-pay for parking and leave the receipt on their dashboard.
Drawing from a 2009 study done by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, Walsh said the park sees between 900-1,100 cars a day from June to September, with most staying one to two hours.
“You could be talking about some serious dollars that could be generated in this park in a passive way,” he said.
No specific amounts were discussed, but Walsh said it wouldn’t deter people from coming. Council Chairwoman Kathy Ray agreed.
“If we maybe ask them to pay $2 to park their car for a couple hours, I’m not sure that that is going to stop them from coming,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s the number, but I’d like to take a look at the numbers so we know what we’re dealing with and a decision can be made.”
Other councilors also said they would like to look into Walsh’s suggestion.
“It would make sense to at least visit this and see if it’s something that makes sense,” Councilor Patty Grennon said.
Councilor Jessica Sullivan said she supports Walsh’s proposal because of “the bells and whistles some of our citizens want” and because of maintenance costs.
“That all costs money and the taxpayers in Cape Elizabeth have been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, all for this park for so many years,” she said.
Sullivan said the 2010 referendum did not clearly explain that residents would not have to pay. She stressed that the new proposal wouldn’t require them to pay, either.
But Councilor Caitlin Jordan thought it was very clear that residents just didn’t like the idea.
“They did not want, in any way whatsoever, there to be a fee for the park,” she said.
Jordan said she’s open to looking at the issue of revenue more broadly, instead of just focusing on parking fees. The park receives revenue from buses and trolleys visiting the park, fees paid by vendors, and fees charged to rent picnic shelters.
“We can package it into a much bigger discussion as a goal going forward as to revisiting all different revenue ideas, instead of just revisiting one,” she said.
Walsh said he was open to that, too, and wants all avenues to be explored.
“I would like this to get the full vetting it requires,” he said. “I don’t want to rush it.”
Going forward, town staff will research pay-and-display technology, survey similar parks, prepare a projection of potential revenue, and report back to the Town Council.