Op Ed

Oppose the Pay-to-Park Plan!

County plan would charge $3.50 per hour to park in 76 parks and parkways.

By - Jan 20th, 2018 04:25 pm
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. Photo from Milwaukee County Parks.

Imagine having to pay to park your car each time you go to a dog park, play golf, take your children swimming, play a game of tennis, soccer or baseball, take your kids to a tot lot, attend a picnic, enjoy a beer garden, or simply sit and observe nature.  These are only some of the occasions when you would be required to pay a fee to park your vehicle in one of Milwaukee County’s beautiful parks.

The 2018 adopted budget for Milwaukee County Parks System includes $1.7 million to be derived from new parking fees that would be incorporated in numerous parks and parkways. The County Board will soon be considering the proposed installation of metering and payment devices in as many as 76 parks and parkways for up to $3.50 per hour.

When this unfortunate idea was presented by County Executive Chris Abele in his version of the 2018 budget, many thought there was no way the County Board would go along with it. Sadly, they did.  To make matters worse, the budget did not include any working capital to accomplish this task. A small Pay-to-Park Workgroup was commissioned through the budget to study the paid-parking issue and make recommendations to the County Board. An informational report by that entity will be presented at the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee meeting on January 23rd. This group includes predominantly County employees, with very little representation by citizens.

Based on meeting notes acquired through the Budget Division of the Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services, the Pay-to-Park Workgroup will recommend that the County award a contract to an outside parking vendor willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure and provide ongoing management, collection, and enforcement. It will also recommend that the contractor pay a base fee and a percentage of parking revenue to the Parks Department.

The City of Chicago did something similar a number of years ago for their city-wide parking. Chicago now receives only 10 percent of all revenue derived from parking. The other 90 percent stays with the contractor. There have been countless reports about how much both citizens and government officials loathe this onerous privatized contract.

It is interesting to note that during their deliberations, the workgroup has identified as many as 2,500 potential parking spaces that could gross as much as $3.1 million dollars at $3.50 per hour. It was not apparent from the workgroup notes how they calculated the gross revenue figure. Did they factor in any firm number regarding parking-space occupancy rates? Did they consider that many park goers would find alternative free parking in neighborhoods adjacent to parks and parkways? Have they determined the effects this might have on other revenue-producing entities such as beer gardens, the Domes and Boerner Botanical Gardens; athletics such as soccer and Little League; or the impacts on the health and well-being of many who will find themselves priced out of visiting parks they have long loved? Did they factor in the inevitable parking problems and bad will within adjacent neighborhoods when streets become inundated with cars of park users? These are questions that must be answered before the County Board can make a decision whether to allow the Parks Department to actively seek bids from parking contractors.

Let’s assume that the nebulous $3.1 million in gross revenue from parking fees in parks is attainable. A contract similar to Chicago’s would net the County a 10 percent return which would be $310,000. Even if the County could negotiate a contract that doubles Chicago’s return, or 20 percent, the revenue would still be over a million dollars short of the budgeted $1.7 million dollars needed for the Parks to attain their revenue target.

To date, this bad idea has been discussed and planned behind closed doors without much in the way of public input. Preserve Our Parks, a local parks advocacy group, feels that it is time for all citizens to have their say in this paradigm change in the way our parks are managed and funded. The public will have two opportunities to speak on this issue. The Parks Energy and Environment Committee of the County Board will hear comments at their meeting on January 23rd at 9 a.m. in Room 210 at the County Courthouse. There will also be a meeting for the public on the issue at the Domes Annex on February 6th at 6 p.m.

Since the founding of our once-envied park system, citizens have enjoyed unfettered access to our parks whether by foot, bicycle, or motorized vehicle. Now the politicians who represent us are attempting to reverse that course. They need to consider very carefully that how they proceed on this poorly conceived issue will resonate loudly with their constituency.

Jim Goulee, President of Preserve Our Parks

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

20 thoughts on “Op Ed: Oppose the Pay-to-Park Plan!”

  1. Troll says:

    Liberal cheap skates. Pay you fair share or Bublr.

  2. blurondo says:

    “Liberal cheap skates?

    11-5-08, Milw. Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee County voters said “yes” to raising Milwaukee County’s sales tax by one percentage point to beef up funding for parks, transit and paramedics and to reduce property taxes, in an advisory referendum Tuesday.

    The advisory referendum was approved by a margin of 52% to 48%, with 96% of the vote counted early today. The all-but-certain win came over the objections of County Executive Scott Walker, but the sales tax increase needs additional approvals to take effect.

    The question was put to voters as a first step toward finding a different and bigger funding source for the county’s expansive park system, which has a nearly $300 million maintenance backlog. It also was aimed at filling growing shortfalls in transit funding and stabilizing county support for local emergency medical services.

  3. Nancy Peske says:

    Extend the season for food sales. Encourage scout troops and volunteer groups from school to clean up litter, and place more trashbins around the parks.
    Parking prices going up doesn’t bother me that much if more Bublr bike, bus, and Zip car options are available and the parking money is used to fund these types of programs AND sustainable asphalt replacements of strips of the bike trail and commonly used roads so bikers are safer.
    Private contractors aren’t a bad thing if they are reasonably priced and provide quality reports. I’m not convinced that crowdsourcing it wouldn’t have been a smarter solution here…

  4. LoveHappyKind says:

    This is disgusting. What do we pay taxes for? Meanwhile, Walker and the republicans reduce and/or eliminate funding for everything wonderful, including science, the arts, medicine, the environment and the DNR!

  5. Snowbeer says:

    This is dumb… But it at least would start to make non residents pay something to take advantage of mke country. How about county residents get stickers that allows free parking and others pay?

  6. Jeremy says:

    The City of Chicago sold their parking rights for $1 Billion dollars for like 70 years. Comparing this to that is absurd. I’m sure Preserve our Parks is also against the budget cuts to close Schultz Aquatic Center, that’s only $250k. What will a million and a half dollars of budget cuts look like?

  7. EricS says:

    I doubt that parking meters would generate a nontrivial amount of revenue at most county parks but for those areas where parking is in high demand, such as many of the lakefront parks, I think it’s a good idea. To the best of my knowledge, the parks budget does not support bus service to parks so it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the parks budget should generally not be used to support storage of private vehicles at parks either. I’d rather see the parks budget spent to maintain green space, playgrounds, nature areas, etc., instead of parking lots.

    Charge something resembling a market rate to park cars (at many parks this rate would be zero, at popular parks it could be more like a few dollars an hour) and allow visitors to parks to make decisions about the best way to visit, whether by bus, car, foot, bike, or whatever.

  8. ParkingFacts says:

    Why don’t we wait for facts rather than react to this sloppy, inaccurate oped? The statement that Chicago receives 10% of parking revenues is complete nonsense. The City received an upfront payment of $1.2 BILLION for their parking meter revenue (35,000 spaces) and the majority of revenues from new parking spaces. Assuming even 25% of that revenue prorated for 2,500 spaces would mean over $20 million in revenue if the County opted for an upfront payment. That would do alot of good for the County park system especially after the Board foolishly turned down the $14 million deal for the parking garage/O’Donnell Park from NM leaving them on the hook for an expensive rehab while NM builds private parking elsewhere. Let’s hear what the Workgroup has to say before panicking.

  9. Jimbo says:

    Good idea to charge for parking. Park sponsorships and advertising would be good, too. Anything to generate some needed revenue.

  10. GRNPAKWH says:

    Truth is the state legislature has handcuffed local government from raising revenue to provide services, at the same time they are cutting the funds sent back to those entities from what we pay as state taxes. You simply cannot support services without revenue, something our Governor has never learned. Maybe what we need is a simple shut down of services to wake people up,maybe like a government shutdown.

  11. mike says:

    We’ve squandered millions destroying our natural environment to build a ridiculous over-abundance of parking including a massive parking structure on the most valuable piece of property downtown. Now – not surprisingly – we can’t afford to maintain all that tarmac.

    Step 1, we need to develop a coherent plan right-size the amount of parking. Sell the O’Donnell structure, no strings attached so it can eventually be redeveloped to its highest and best use, and in the meantime pay some taxes. Then over the course of the next couple decades we need to systematically narrow park roads as they are rebuilt to eliminate unused parking lanes and let some (most) surface lots return to nature – all actions will reduce the long term maintenance costs to the county. Step 2, we meter – not specifically for revenue – but to keep park activities orderly & accessible. For example, downtown workers should not be parking for free on county property then walking to work, since that takes away spots from people looking to use the parks. Lincoln Memorial shouldn’t be a free satellite parking lot for Brady Street, etc.

  12. MollyO says:

    Charging the public to visit a public area (even if it is parking) will deny access to some.
    Everyone in Milwaukee cannot walk or bike to the lakefront.
    I swear these people lie awake at nite thinking of more ways to screw the populace.

  13. EricS says:

    Walk or bike to the parks for free, or pay to park your car or ride the bus to the parks. Not an unreasonable proposition, in my opinion.

    Better in my opinion that more of the parks budget be dedicated to actual parkland than to providing space for the storage of private vehicles.

  14. Uccello says:

    As a local birder who already pays a lot in taxes, I thought I had picked a low-cost hobby, but now it seems it could cost me dearly. I had been thinking about retiring in Milwaukee so I could enjoy the parks more and the great birding opportunities, but this could very well push me into considering other cities. Even a yearly Park Pass (for a certain amount of $$) would be a better idea than requiring people to pay every time they want to visit a park.

  15. mike says:

    The county is planning to spend $2.1 million in FY2018 to resurface the parking lot at the McKinley marina. We can certainly charge yacht owners to maintain their own lot.

  16. f m kuehn says:

    Charging for parking is OK, but handicap spaces should be free. We go to parks to play, walk, hike, so if you don’t want to pay for parking, park on the street and walk to the park or bike.

  17. roz says:

    i am amazed at you who want parking meters in the parks and along the lake front. have you looked at who goes to the lake front on july 4th. do you think there would be tent city for the fire works. and you east siders, maybe you can walk or bike to the park, how about families who don’t live walking distance to any park. let’s come up with some original thinking here. the work group that developed this plan NEVER asked for public input, did not consult the park friend’s groups nor any other neighborhood organization. shall we make our parks only for the rich and elite.


    I am not opposed to this. I think the dangerous thing here is if the city doesn’t start prioritizing better transit. Bike Share, trains, buses the fees will surely be inequitable. CHICAGO has a robust transportation system that services all walks of live. We prioritize cars. Residents should pay a smaller annual parks sticker and non residents can purchase a day pass or pay a high hourly cost. HOWEVER, the county needs to be held accountable for helping to make contributions towards equity in accessibility and making a major effort to collaborate with the city to move the Greater Milwaukee Area into the present. The paradigm shift here is a A LOT bigger than just fees. We need more political will.

  19. roz says:

    i am not opposed to you biking and walking. like those activities. i don’t understand your point about a paradigm shift. we need more political will to do what. parks should be free with access to everyone no matter how rich, poor and where they live. yes, let’s have the boat owners contribute payment to the parking lot where the boats are parked. let’s have a committee made up of a lot of different people, business, residents, park friend etc. and let them work with the county committee to come up with a long range plan.

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