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Committee to revisit recommended group-use fee for 2020 Beach to Beacon

In what is usually an annual routine, the Town Council on Feb. 10, 2020 approved major group uses of Fort Williams Park for the coming season, but this year excluded the Beach to Beacon 10K pending review of the fee the town will charge the annual road race.

Councilors instead voted to refer the recommended fee for 2020 back to the Fort Williams Park Committee, which will re-examine the matter at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 13.

The committee had recommended a $27,500 fee, up from the $25,000 the event had been charged annually since 2011, after lengthy discussion with members of the Beach to Beacon board at their meeting Jan. 16, according to the council's published agenda. Last spring, the committee voted to recommend a 10-percent increase each year for the next three years; the latest recommendation sets the 10-percent increase for this year, to be revisited by the committee in March.

Before the council voted, however, Councilor Chris Straw said he would not support the recommended fee, primarily because he knew of no "rationale" behind it, and that it had not changed in nine years. "This one entity should be paying the same (people-intensive) fee everyone else pays, $5 a head, and for this I'm going to vote no," Straw said. The fee should at least keep pace with inflation, he said, which at 2 percent applied each year since 2011 would come to $34,000.

The race draws more than 6,000 participants for the 10K race that stretches from the entrance of Crescent Beach State Park to Portland Head Light. "The registration fees keep going up, our costs keep going up, but in real dollar numbers the amount that we're charging is dropping," Straw said.

Councilor Valerie Deveraux also voted against the recommendation, but votes from the other councilors present – Valerie Adams, Jamie Garvin and Jeremy Gabrielson – were less than a majority of the full council and not enough to approve. Councilors Penny Jordan and Caitlin Jordan were absent.

Straw made a second motion to approve uses for Cape Elizabeth Little League, Walk to Cure Arthritis, Cape Elizabeth High School graduation, and Family Fun Day, which passed 5-0.

Straw then made a third motion to set the Beach to Beacon fee at $34,000, but then withdrew it in favor of suggestions from councilors Adams and Garvin to send the fee back to committee.

Both Garvin and Councilor Deveraux, who moved to send back to committee, said they thought $34,000 too much of an increase; Garvin added he believed that setting a per-head fee without knowing the actual size of the crowd the Beach to Beacon draws sets a dangerous precedent. "I also ... think the $5 per person number is much more in-line and applicable for the standard size activity that happens at the Fort – the standard, large group event versus the one outlier that is the Beach to Beacon race," he said.

"I don't know if the wiser course of action might be to refer this back to the committee," Garvin said.

The race pays fees for additional sites used at the park other than race day, as well as compensation for the time of the town's parks foreman, equipment operator, and public safety presence, said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis. He estimated a total cost to the race organizers of $31,000 for town services, if the $27,500 group use fee were applied.

In a related matter, councilors voted separately to set a comprehensive review of town fees to a future workshop.