Patricia Jursik
Op Ed

County Neglects Parks and Culture

Bucks arena gets millions while parks, museums, zoo decline.

By - Jun 19th, 2017 01:53 pm
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New Bucks Arena Under Construction. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

New Bucks Arena Under Construction. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Quality of Life (QOL) refers to non-essential activities that affect the desirability of a place to live. While this could include transit options or location, this article will focus on three key QOL components of Milwaukee County: parks, cultural entities (museums or zoo, etc,) and sports, both professional and non-professional.

Park land is almost entirely owned and operated by county government, with isolated city parks. Cultural entities are either nonprofit enterprises, and government-owned organizations, or hybrids of both. While non-professional sport is relegated largely to schools or recreation departments of local governments, professional sports in Milwaukee are private, for-profit enterprises often played in publicly owned and funded facilities under contractual arrangement. Owners of professional teams obtain long-term leases for these publicly built facilities largely benefitting their private or closely held business.

Financially, this QOL portfolio, except for professional sports in Milwaukee County, is experiencing severe strain and is not sustainable without additional resources. Estimates of deferred maintenance of our parks alone have been over $400 million.

Tim Sheehy speaking to the media regarding the new arena. Photo by Michael Horne.

Tim Sheehy speaking to the media regarding the new arena. Photo by Michael Horne.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce under leadership of Tim Sheehy led a task force in 2015 and conducted a needs assessment of this larger portfolio of parks, cultures and sport facilities and funding alternatives for all these needs. The Public Policy Forum was engaged to conduct research on how other communities fund QOL activities.  Sheehy concluded by proposing a sales tax to provide for funding of deferred capital costs among other suggestions. At first the tax proposed was regional, but Sheehy later promoted only a tax in Milwaukee County.

During the last 2016-17 state budget deliberations, this assessment reached a critical juncture as the Milwaukee Bucks sought public support for building a new arena. Because one piece of the larger QOL portfolio became the focal point of the state budget, the focus on the sustainability of other assets in this portfolio was neglected.  While county residents may value parks and culture (giving consent in the past to a sales tax never enacted) more highly than sports, state legislators were able to dictate priority for funding purposes, and Milwaukee County residents are now forced to pay $4 million per year of property taxes for the new arena.

The very purpose of local county government is to provide for the representation of local preferences for use of limited dollars gained from local property taxes. The Economic Development Committee and the Parks Committee of county government reflected these priorities during the sale of the Park East parcel when the arena came into play, and the first hearing by these committees in autumn of 2015 on the sale of Park East land included a review of the parks and culture deficits along with the request for sale of this land for a sports arena.

As Chair of the Economic Development Committee working with then chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and the rest of the county board, I believe this committee worked in good faith to explore the QOL needs of our local citizens, not just professional sports. Clearly the main leverage for getting MMAC (many members living outside this county) and the Bucks organization (with out-of-state owners) to consider the needs of the entire QOL portfolio while requesting public funding for an arena was the county ownership of Park East.

County Executive Chris Abele working with Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican controlled legislature obtained enactment of a new state law (2015 Wisconsin Laws, Act 55) removing the county board from oversight of sales of all county land except park land. This law defined park land through reliance on zoning laws, a procedure strictly limited to municipal action, not county, even though the ownership of and investment for the land had been largely county-wide.

This law was enacted as part of the state budget without hearings or input from county residents. It effectively eliminated the last leverage county government could use regarding deficits in the entire QOL portfolio. The WOW communities of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington would continue to have access without property taxes comparable to those paid by Milwaukee County residents for this new arena while continuing to have access to any other QOL activities they use. Miller Park, for example, is financed regionally since it is used regionally though located in Milwaukee County while Bradford Beach is used widely yet funded strictly by local financing.

Recently the Bucks completed the final lease agreement on the new arena with the Bradley Center, a non-elected board appointed largely by the governor and Milwaukee mayor. As reported recently by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Bradley Center will be entitled to payment from the rental of luxury suites reported to be $2.1 million per year until the Bradley Center Board satisfies certain expenses in closing out the old arena and prior leases with the Bucks and Marquette Golden Eagles. No payments were provided for the support of the remainder of the QOL portfolio.

The emerald-necklace concept of Whitnall, Dretzka and other enlightened park planners had helped to create a Milwaukee County Park System with unified planning instead of creating competition among the communities of haves and have nots. This legacy is now unraveling thanks to the leadership of Walker, Abele, and the business community under Sheehy.

No provisions in the newly negotiated lease with the Bradley Center reflect the local priorities. Milwaukee County is facing the loss of the Domes, the Lake Park Bridge, an Olmstead legacy, and other park amenities. The Milwaukee Public Museum is discussing downsizing and the Historical Society occupies a downtown structure that is “shrink-wrapped” to keep its cornice from falling, but no funding was forthcoming for these needs.

In one fell swoop, the county lost all its leverage in working toward a solution for developing sustainable resources to support the entire QOL portfolio. Like a hedge-fund manager, the county executive is spinning off the assets of this portfolio with professional sports getting his highest priority. The very constituents he is elected to represent were being short-changed at the expense of multi-million-dollar basketball players and their owners, many not Abele’s constituents.

Crabapples come into bloom in Whitnall Park in time for Mother's Day. Photo taken near Boerner Botanical Gardens. Photo from Milwaukee County Parks.

Crabapples come into bloom in Whitnall Park in time for Mother’s Day. Photo taken near Boerner Botanical Gardens.

Instead state government under Walker and GOP legislative majorities imposed their will on Milwaukee County residents with the help of the business community under Sheehy. The fact that the county portion of the arena funding is paid by county property taxes, i.e. local taxes, was ignored by the GOP majority who historically had touted local control for local taxing. The WOW communities who largely control state-wide elections have become the robber barons of the QOL in Milwaukee County reminiscent of the ugly days before the Great Depression. These counties only bargain if they want something such as regional sewers or Lake Michigan water. Yet they use the zoo, museums, Marcus Center and regional parks like Bradford and Whitnall and provide no tax support.

Will park and cultural assets now be further divided and spun-off? This appears to be the focus of Abele and Director John Dargle of the parks department under the guise of a long-range plan for the Milwaukee County Parks. The county executive is directing our park administration to find a way to provide 100 percent funding for our parks by 2024 through various enterprise activities, many by privately owned business.

The survey asks questions concerning cutting services or even selling off park land. It also suggests for-profit partnerships which would turn parks into enterprise zones rather than preserving open spaces for the public. It is striking to see the depth of planning here devoted to a marketing strategy of creating new enterprise zones or selling off park land. Single municipalities can change zoning of county parks to enact changes, but not the county board.

The many appointed boards over-seeing our cultural institutions, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee County Historical Society, and others are under growing pressure from Abele to do private fund raising while the county tax support is dwindling. These boards are being told there is no funding. The truth is the priority has been placed elsewhere, largely on funding privately owned professional sports. These new dollars will not benefit public parks or public cultural institutions.

County residents have lost locally elected oversight on the sale of county land which was created through county-wide investment, while the robber barons (many from the WOW communities)) who control state elections increasingly determine local priorities and dictate local funding. If this looks like taxation without representation, it strikes the same chord as a GOP dominated gerrymandering of elections.

The disenfranchised working-class voters who have not moved to the WOW communities for lower property taxes along with the CEOs are paying the price. The citizens of West Allis, West Milwaukee, Greenfield, St. Francis, Cudahy, South Milwaukee, Shorewood, and others can’t afford to rent a luxury suite at the arena, yet it is their property tax dollar that will partly pay for the arena and suites not located in their own city and not reaping the economic gain. Yet the CEOs of the largest businesses who generally live in the WOW communities will escape this property tax on their home, but rent the luxury suites.

Even those living within the city, where the new arena will be located, have a right to complain. Funding of private sport does not reflect the local priorities of many of these citizens. They too have been disenfranchised by losing representation of their county supervisor from having any oversight of the spending of the $4 million per year subsidizing the building of a new arena versus funding county parks. Friends of Lake Park want to preserve Lake Park Bridge, but have been told by the county executive through the 2018 budget to raise the money for this project or lose the bridge.

The entire capital budget for parks in the 2018 budget is only $1,158,122 which pales in comparison to the $4 million plus the Bucks development. These Milwaukee citizens lost any say in how this money was to be invested and are also losing beloved county structures like the Olmstead designed bridge and other QOL assets.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has reported that the MMAC invested more than $2.4 million dollars largely to GOP representatives since 2010 for lobbying activities at the expense of local workers and consumers. MMAC has gotten a good return on this investment at the expense of local citizens.

Abele has not represented his local constituency or their QOL priorities. Sheehy and the MMAC seemingly have abandoned all promises to help fund our parks and culture once they got the Park East parcel. The local priorities and the quality of life in Milwaukee County are the victims of these robber barons. They are stealing the quality of life of the common man. The common good is no longer a matter of local representation while local tax dollars are grabbed for private purposes but denied for public needs.

Patricia Jursik, attorney, was a Milwaukee County Supervisor, Dist 8, and Chair of Ecnomic Development Committee during negotiations on Park East sale and is a Preserve Our Parks board member.

Categories: Op-Ed, Real Estate

34 thoughts on “Op Ed: County Neglects Parks and Culture”

  1. Tom T. says:

    Absent the arena debate, we would still starve our assets. It’s just convenient to pit them against everything else. At least we get to keep the team.

  2. Bill Marsh says:

    I agree the county land giveaway to the Bucks billionaires was a lousy deal. But besides that foolish deal, I wonder where all the MKE County money has gone. Maybe fat pensions and corrupt backdrop payments to county employees and supervisors? As for ideas to save and prioritize money- how about eliminating county employee pensions completely, having county employees enroll in 401Ks, and making their retirement age 65? You know, kind of like what typical disenfranchised taxpayer is getting in the private sector.

    As to Patricia Jursik and Marina Dimitrijevic, why would anyone trust them with more hard-earned taxpayer money? These two are constant fighters and proponents for government fat and spending. Remember how the county board fought against cutting their fat full-time salaries for their part-time jobs? Remember how Dimitrijevic and a majority of the board fought against cutting the county board size? Remember when Walker as county supervisor wanted to make the county parks department more efficient? The fat, corrupt county board ran from Walkers efficiency plan like vampires run from daylight. Based on their history, the Milwaukee County Board of robber politicians should not be trusted with more taxpayer money.

  3. Troll Jason says:

    Patty, the retired employees of Milwaukee County come first, no mention of that in your cry for help. The 1990’s County board shattered your little parks and cultural experiences. Did I read on this site that the County tax payers all ready shelled out $ 400 million dollars to our beloved public servants just for retiring and then we add the pension on that, pure gravy nice job if you can get it. How many zoo keepers on this green earth do you know that get cut a check for a million dollars on top of their county pension? So spare us your whine, be glad you hit up all the soccer moms, and the other vehicle driving tax payers and just leave us a loan. We will continue to work and in many cases two jobs, so you can live off us and whine.

  4. Dragonkat Motorsports says:

    L.O.L
    So glad we left Milwaukee Country for Cook County ( IL) one of the best run Counties in the US
    we don’t have the Quality of Life issues that MKE has

  5. Brewer says:

    Dragonk. Glad you left. It doesn’t appear you had any insightful opinions on the issues, anyway. So, stay there! I don’t want to see another NIBS license plates TOB (towing a boat).

  6. David Ciepluch says:

    Bill Marsh – pensions belong to the people that toiled. It is their actual labor and deferred compensation that built up the pension system over decades. Mismanagement by a few puts it a risk for all past, current and future workers.

    There is no real difference between Social Security Trust Fund, pensions, 401k and 403B with our without matching funds, and IRAs. The money put into these systems comes from the labor and wages of working people. This set aside investment in trust never did or has been the taxpayer’s money. It belongs to the worker and has been promised to be returned during retirement years. Illinois has gotten into huge debt problems granting huge tax breaks over the past decades, stolen from pension contributions that should have been set aside. This is wage theft.

    As for our park systems and commons that benefit us all, it has been under attack by Republican privatization schemes for decades. These commons and green spaces were established to benefit all including public health, as stated in the US Constitution 10th Amendment, states will protect the public health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. The commons and green spaces are mere leftover crumbs for the masses. Now the con-men of our society want all the crumbs and nothing for the masses.

    All elected officials and leader positions take an oath of office to abide by the US Constitution, and many violate that oath every minute they hold office.

  7. AG says:

    David Ciepluch, there’s a big difference bewteen those programs. In other words, there’s a big difference between defined benefit retirement plans and defined contribution retirement plans. Defined benefit is the ideal program, but in reality, if there are any issues in it’s management or unforeseen circumstances like a market crash that wasn’t planned for properly or any number of problems, the system can collapse. With a 401k, 403b, or any defined contribution plan the money is still earned but a few corrupt or inept managers can’t destroy a system that many rely on… instead the risk is borne by the individual. Reality dictates, and experience tells us, that overall it’s the safer bet overall.

  8. Dragonkat motorsports says:

    Brewer- the fact that this is even an issue speaks volumes about the lack of care the people living in Milwaukee County about their community

    We don’t have these issues in Cook County because has residence we don’t give up on our responsibilities for good government, outstanding QOL, schools, Transit, etc

  9. Joe says:

    So glad we left Milwaukee Country for Cook County ( IL) one of the best run Counties in the US

    Are we being trolled?

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    Cook County does include some super wealthy areas so maybe Dragonkat lives in an ultra-rich part of that county far away from the problems that plague Chicago.

  11. Joe says:

    Perhaps, but the County is not well-run from a financial/tax perspective, regardless of where one lives.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    True. I’m just trying to see if there’s any possibility we’re not being trolled because what they are saying flies in the fact of well-established reality. That’s the only possibility I can imagine. They are Barrington or something, many miles from Chicago, and everything is peachy keen.

  13. Dragonkat motorsports says:

    No your not
    The issues with. Chicago issues are 3 fold
    A: the city let a gang grow out of control due to a long feud between the police Union and former mayor Richard Daley over officer pay
    B: there are no gun laws in neighboring Indiana we’re almost all the illegal handguns come from
    C: the city of Chicago only not only pays for its own schools but the schools districts of the suburbs as well this was done due to a new casino that was supposed to come to downtown Chicago…well that deal fell through the city got left holding the bag

  14. Dragonkat motorsports says:

    Despite those issues All County Services are still fully funded unlike Milwaukee County we’re not at risk of losing our Transit, parks and other QOL things…unlike MKE

  15. AG says:

    Dragonkat really must be a trolling, indeed. That is the worst list of issues facing chicago I’ve ever seen.

    The violence and gang problem is all about police pay disputes?

    Gun violence is Indiana’s fault?

    The school district pay statement is just wildly false… it’s a convolution of the pension issues that Chicago created itself and ignores the fact that CPS gets far more from the state than any of the suburban districts that pay far far higher property taxes.

    Dragonkat, do you really even live in Chicago?

  16. Dragonkat motorsports says:

    In the city no,
    I’m in Arlington Heights if you must know
    you should visit here….its the greatest

  17. David Ciepluch says:

    AG – I well understand the difference between defined pensions and 401K. I am fortunate to have both as well as Social Security. And the point is that defined pensions still belong to the worker, along with Social Security, and are managed in a Trust for them, and promised payments during retirement years. Any retirement fund can be mismanaged. The County pension fund was mismanaged for huge windfall payouts to high wage earners based on a run-up in the 90s market.

    Pensions are invested in the same markets as 401Ks and IRAs.

    Mismanagement of funds puts other things at risk, like parks funding. On a state level, DOT spending is highly mismanaged and robbing from the future instead of collecting gas taxes today to pay for major road new construction. In 2018, 22 cents of every dollar collected in tax will be needed to pay road debt on borrowed money. The same thing happens when robbing a pension fund, or not making the match payments on 401Ks so government can give tax breaks to their benefactors. Then a shortfall hits the books and the working person is stuck with the tab for government mismanagement.

  18. AG says:

    David Ciepluch, but the point was that the lump sum backdrop payments WERE a mismanagement and workers didn’t “earn” that windfall. It was far out of bounds from what was earned and expected.

  19. Virginia says:

    Some comparisons between Cook and Milwaukee County may not be apples to apples for various reasons.

    Nonetheless, Greater Chicago has long had widespread mass transit connecting suburbs and city. Chicago also has long had a pro-parks culture. Its current and previous mayors have been big parks advocates.

    Parks development has gone far beyond the phenomonally popular Millennium Park and adjacent Maggie Daley Park, which have had a huge positive economic impact. Developers pay impact fees to support parks.Some even pay to create truly public parks because good parks are key to QOL and proven overall economic generators.

  20. Dragonkat motorsports says:

    That’s the major difference, Milwaukee has never had a pro-QOL culture, the suburbs outside of Cudahy and South Milwaukee are not welcoming of mass transit which leads to Milwaukee 61% low wage/ unemployment
    issues.

  21. Virginia says:

    Dragonk, it depends on far back in Milwaukee’s history you trace. There was once both a streetcar and light rail that connected with several suburbs to the the city. And during Milwaukee’s long progressive “Sewer Socialist” era, it led on many QOL issues, including parks. Yes, starting with 1960s urban renewal Milwaukee because very car-centric and parks have been defunded for 30 years. Civic culture is not static.

  22. Jason Troll says:

    Dragonik, your world is crashing down on you. Your paradise Illinois is contemplating bankruptcy. So smell the roses, you cannot tax your way out of that mess. Back to Milwaukee County, liberals like to redistribute wealth. We have just witnessed twenty years at a cost of $400 million dollars possibly the greatest fleecing in Wisconsin history. The retirees of Milwaukee County not only received their cake which they deserved but also $400 million dollars of SUGAR. The time, sweat and labour of the citizens of Milwaukee County has been redistributed to public servants. So, to you the private sector “Put your back into it”, because the public conga line has not finished more sign the dot… retire millionaires are coming.

  23. David Ciepluch says:

    AG – I agree the backdrop was the main problem, and it was not the regular workers or unions that asked for it. It was a few lead people in the Ament Administration and County Supervisors approved it at the time. It was simple looting from the pension system. And all public workers should not be smeared in the process, since it was the higher paid staff that reaped the loot. I recall the Baldwin family that had salaries over $100,000 walk away with about $400,000 each for the backdrop, and the monthly fixed payment.

    All current and future workers pay for the damage that was inflicted, and other departments that raise quality of life for all suffer as well since it impacts all budgets. And it has an impact on all taxpayers that live here, and a Parks systems that has had decreasing funding and neglect since the 1980s. Even with that some positive strides have been made in the Parks system.

  24. Vincent Hanna says:

    “I agree the backdrop was the main problem, and it was not the regular workers or unions that asked for it. It was a few lead people in the Ament Administration and County Supervisors approved it at the time. It was simple looting from the pension system. And all public workers should not be smeared in the process”

    That is what’s shameful about this. People who hate unions and select public employees use this to generalize and demonize all public workers. But when it’s convenient those same people will use the “it’s only a few bad applies” cliche.

  25. Bill Marsh says:

    RE- David Ciepluch- The corrupt system of government employee unions providing political funding and support to politicians who in turn determine the government employee unions penion benefit plans at the expense of taxpayers, needs to stop. The government pensions with public employees retiring in their 50’s with generous medical benefits are the fruits of a corrupt system and are not only derived from the labor of government employees, but also off the backs of taxpayers that have been fleeced by the robber politicians in cahoots with government employee unions. Face it, government employees through their unions have bribed politicians to provide themselves benefits that are atypically lavish in the private sector, to the detriment of taxpayers. And now the results of that corruption is affecting services such as our county parks.

    To say taxpayer money is not involved in paying for the generous defined benefit pensions and retirement health benefits of MKE county employees is absurd and dishonest, just like the system the benefits were derived from. County employees did not fully fund their pensions and other retirement benefits. The funding problem was always going to be taken care of some other day, now that day has come. The county parks system is not under attack by Republicans, but has in fact been fleeced by the long-term mismanagement and corruption of Democratic robber politicians who have held control of MKE county government for over 50 years. Dem leaders such as Marina Dimitrijevic are more concerned about protecting crony union jobs along with their fat benefits (not found in the private sector), than they are about the citizens, taxpayers, county parks, and/or its cultural assets.

    Now the money has run out and robber politicians are crying poverty to the taxpayers. The bank robbers want us to fill the vault for their next heist.

    RE Vincent Hanna- Yes, I do hate government employee unions due the corrupt system they operate in. Like FDR believed, I believe government employee unions should be banned. Your strawman argument about demonizing all public workers – I get it, its not public employees that kill parks, its public employee unions that kill parks.

  26. Vincent Hanna says:

    You are part of the problem Bill. You go to extremes and overgeneralize in a way that isn’t reasonable or accurate, but it sure makes for good talking points and cheap shots. People like you do demonize public workers, not just the unions they belong to. You also conveniently never ever demonize public sector unions that represent police officers or firefighters. So you’re hypocritical too.

  27. Jason Troll says:

    Dragnonk, the State of Illinois has not paid its share of Medicaid reinbursement to the Federal government in years owing $10 billion dollars. The state of Illinois has been court ordered to pay bills to contractors of the state. The Illinois state lottery cannot pay its winners and Mega Bucks is leaving Illinois due to lack of credit funding. The State comptroller has stated the treasury does not have Revenue to cover day to day operations. Citizens and businesses see this and our planning to exit.

  28. gerry broderick says:

    I find the ideological rationalizations offered to justify selfishness hackneyed, but never the less amusing. Back in 2008 The MMAC worked behind closed doors in Madison to subvert the implementation of the advisory referendum passed by the people of Milwaukee County to increase funding for Parks & Public transit systems.
    Mr. Sheehy and his accomplices through their purchased influence managed to convince their legislative minions to permanently forestall Milwaukee County’s ability to implement the will of the people in favor of much wiser options that they intended to offer in the future. The author as done a great job of laying out what has occurred since. Perhaps it is time to abandon the pretense that government is “of the people” and pursue turning our court system into revenue generators. Or have we already done that?

  29. David Ciepluch says:

    Bill Marsh – I agree that the taxpayer is like the insurer of last resort for corruption in government and mismanagement. The mismanagement of the County pension fund has been well documented and investigated by reporters. And it was not unions and workers that sought and approved the backdrop scheme. It was from top levels of County government and consultants that thought they could skim off a lot of cream for themselves after the 90s run-up in the Wall Street market where pension investments reside. Norquist as Mayor and Thompson as Governor in the 90s, tried dipping into the City and State pensions for their purposes, and were challenged in court to keep their hands off the pensions. They are not the piggy banks of government or the taxpayer. Walker is trying to change state laws so he can get his hands on the State pension system but so far has not been successful.

    The taxpayer is on the hook for the billion-dollar road debt that Walker has taken on for the State. Every 22 cents collected in the future will be needed to pay off borrowed money, hampering future road maintenance state wide. It is robbing from the future. The back-drop pension scam has robbed all of us from the present and future of many other potential spending ventures including Parks that is the theme of the article.

    Committing public money into an Arena for a select few may have merit for the business community and private box holders that do not want to site with regular people, but should not be done at the expense of the majority that use other commons for quality of life issues. The majority of Milwaukee residents will not attend a Bucks game or venue at the new Arena due to the expense. Parks are at risk due to past mismanagement on other spending, and a perverse idea to sell off lands for a quick profit for someone’s idea of a one off quick tax break.

    In regard to your opinion about lucrative benefits of government workers, I completely disagree and that is another subject altogether. It is merely your opinion and negative sentiment about workers and unions that advocate for workers.

    Wages belong to the worker for their toil. Wages are made up of benefits including pension, 401K match, health care payments, etc. They are an agreed part of compensation and belong to the worker, not the taxpayer. Any pension money, Social Security, 401K matching funds, health care paid out in retirement belong to the worker for their decades of toil, and paid out as deferred compensation. Application of your rhetoric is pure invention so someone can steal promised compensation that has been placed in trust.

  30. Virginia says:

    Here’s an NYT article about the growing trend of investing in neighborhood parks: “In Chicago and Philadelphia, the Difference a Park Makes.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/12/arts/design/chicago-philadelphia-parks-rahm-emanuel.html

    “Chicago is at the forefront of a growing, big-city trend. It has been undertaking a major parks and open space program, upgrading neighborhood playgrounds and recreation centers, scooping up acres of disused land for new green areas and repurposing large swaths of formerly industrial waterfront. Aided by a longstanding tax that goes directly to parks, these efforts to improve public space, begun under the city’s former mayor, Richard M. Daley, have gathered steam since Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011.

    They have met with some of the usual resistance from state authorities reluctant to finance city improvements and from some aldermen who want money now allocated for parks, trees and after-school programs redirected toward violence-prevention. The mayor has testily noted that after-school programs and parks, like La Villita, provide exactly the sort of safe spaces for young people that help reduce crime.

    From Philadelphia to Seattle, other American cities are also banking on parks and public spaces to drive social and economic progress. Parks may not seem particularly urgent compared with the latest gangland murder epidemic; but the effort in Chicago to improve and expand them has, neighborhood by neighborhood, delivered long-term rewards.”

  31. Patricia Jursik says:

    I am one of the last commentators that would want to discuss pension when the gist of this article is about loss of quality of life and the grabbing of public funds for private enterprise/big sports. Yet it is related. The cryptic comments that are unable to ever discuss county government services without discussing the pension scandal actually do underline one related point: WOW communities not contributing to the legacy that helped create them.

    Back in the early days of county government, the entire region was contained mostly within county of Milwaukee boundaries. As recently as the 1970s, county government was over 7500 workers, and many more working for Parks than the skeleton crew that remains. Anyone that knows how pension funds operate, knows that planning back in the day would have used formulas that computed future expected payout and contribution based on the original numbers (7500 or so) and computed a given rate of return and assumed life expectancy, these assumptions never contemplated the out-migration to the suburbs. So it is true that the smaller tax base that remains is under growing pressure to support these vested pensions. (Vested long before I or much of the remaining board ever took office) It is also worth noting that many of these retired citizens that worked for Milw. Co. now take their pension money and move to suburbs beyond the county or even state. But this changes nothing when it comes to loss of NEW money in our support of the growing deficits for Parks and Cultures. For this, the criticism of the county executive and MMAC stands not refuted.

  32. AG says:

    Patricia, laying blame on the exec and MMAC and abdicating any responsibility for the board’s dysfunction is exactly why taxpayers are so frustrated with the board.

  33. Tim says:

    AG, if the board is so dysfunctional… why doesn’t the state of WI scrap it? The board cannot dissolve itself, all county government in WI is set up according to WI state statute. If it’s so bad, why not fix it?

  34. M says:

    AG & Tim,
    As this author outlines, the county board played absolutely no role in Abele’s decision to commit $80 million over 20 years to build an arena for the privately owned Bucks team–which will reap ALL income from that arena. Nor did the board have any say about also giving the Bucks owners 10 acres of county land valued at about $10 million for their speculation.

    Also, what form of government do you propose in place of a democratically elected board?

    I’m not fond of some supervisors but I am a fan of three equal branches of govt. If you live in MKE Co, you can work to get other supervisors elected.

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