Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Survey says fees at fort, prosecute parents

Published in the Current and the American Journal

A survey conducted by a Portland market research firm owned by a Cape Elizabeth woman shows that Mainers overwhelmingly support a $5 annual admission fee at Fort Williams, as well as prosecution of parents who “knowingly allow their minor children” to host parties with alcohol.

The survey, conducted by Critical Insights, owned by Cape resident MaryEllen FitzGerald, is part of a semi-annual statewide poll the company undertakes with two purposes. The first is to allow companies to purchase small numbers of questions in a statewide poll without commissioning an entire survey alone. Those questions, and their answers, are shared only with the clients.

The second purpose is to ask people a series of “general interest” questions over time that shows trends in opinion throughout the state. Those questions are created by the company’s staff, and results are made public to promote the firm, FitzGerald said.

She herself comes up with some of the questions, and for the past few years has added a question about parental responsibility for underage parties with alcohol. The question asks if parents who know about such parties should be prosecuted.

A “yes” answer to the question has gotten overwhelming support every time, and in the latest survey was supported by 82 percent of respondents.

FitzGerald said she added the question in response to “the ongoing conversation” in Cape Elizabeth about parents and teenage parties. Cape Police Capt. Brent Sinclair agreed with the survey’s respondents. “Absolutely they should” be prosecuted. When Cape police have enough evidence, “we do issue them a citation.”

Two percent of the survey respondents didn’t give an answer to the question. As for the 16 percent of survey respondents who said parents should not be prosecuted, Sinclair said, “those are the 16 percent of kids we’re dealing with.”

He warned that whether parents know about what their property is used for is immaterial, if a person gets drunk and gets in an accident on the way home. “In the bigger picture, it’s a huge liability for the parents,” Sinclair said.

This year, for the first time, FitzGerald also added a question about a Fort Williams admission charge, using the model proposed by Town Councilor Mary Ann Lynch of a $5 annual fee per vehicle.

The question included a preliminary statement by the questioner, to set a context for the question. The exact wording was: “With the current state budget shortfall, towns across the state are looking for ways to lessen the impact of the budget cuts on their communities. You may have heard that the town of Cape Elizabeth was considering charging a once-a-year fee of $5 for admittance to Fort Williams Park. Taxpayers in the town contribute $30 per household through their taxes to the maintenance of the park, where all visitors (including tour buses) are currently admitted for free of charge. Do you support or oppose charging a once-a-year fee of $5 per vehicle for a pass giving unlimited access to Fort Williams?”

Seventy-four percent of respondents agreed, with people living in Southern Maine supporting it less than people in other areas of the state.

Lynch said she had seen the survey and liked what she saw. “It confirmed my anecdotal gut feeling,” she said.

And though the survey was not just of Cape residents, she said it showed that “people outside of Cape Elizabeth recognize that it’s a resource that needs to be cherished – by paying for it.”

Also in the survey were questions about statewide and national issues.

Nearly half of all Mainers think unemployment and the economy are the two most important issues for the state, and look to Gov. John Baldacci for leadership to solve those problems.

Mainers are split on a casino, with a statistical dead-heat in the response to a question asking whether the respondent supports or opposes “the idea of building a casino in Maine.” When the question was asked again with language close to what is proposed to be on the ballot in November, support climbed to 57 percent.

The survey also included a question on a proposal co-sponsored by Rep. Larry Bliss, D-South Portland, to decrease the voting age to 17. Most people did not agree, with 77 percent opposing it and only 20 percent favoring it Three percent of respondents either did not know or refused to answer.