Graham Kilmer

Residents Jeer Pay-to-Park Plan

Abele sympathizes but says county must get revenue from somewhere.

By - Feb 7th, 2018 04:18 pm
Lake Park. Photo by Dave Reid.

Lake Park. Photo by Dave Reid.

A surly crowd of several hundred Milwaukee County residents chattered and boo’d their way through a public meeting Tuesday night as they faced down a group of Milwaukee County officials trying to explain their reasoning behind the “pay to park” plan.

The proposal calls for adding a parking meter system to a number of Milwaukee County parks to generate at least $1.6 million in revenue during the 2018 fiscal year. And at its core, it’s one small instrument proposed within the latest budget to fill in a funding gap that has widened over the years.

When it comes to finding lost revenue a 2016 survey by the Parks Department found that instituting parking fees to maintain existing services was among the top three preferences by respondents, behind increasing user fees 10 percent and seeking state approval for an increased sales tax.

This gap is the result of a few factors, one of them is the county’s enormous pension obligation. By 2028, without an increase in the tax levy, pension and healthcare will account for 97 percent of the county budget. Along with that, there are a slew of capital projects that need funding. At this time the county has $400 million in deferred maintenance largely because it has used funds from capital projects in past budget cycles to create new streams of revenue, according to Teig Whaley-Smith, director of the department of administrative services.

And a third, but very consequential reason, is the states shared revenue program. Much like the City of Milwaukee, the county has an inverse relationship with the state of Wisconsin in terms of revenue. Specifically, the revenue the county generates and sends to the state far exceeds the funds the state sends back to the county through its shared revenue program. In short the county is left trying to design budgets that keep the local government functioning while the state bleeds it like a medieval surgeon.

“The irony is that while we’ve been getting less from the state, the county sends about a quarter billion more every year to the state,” county executive Chris Abele said.

State shared revenue funding to the county has dropped by about 50 percent, from $340.5 million to $171 million, from 2007 to 2015, according to information provided at the meeting.

So as the amount of taxes the county sends to the state is increased and their returned share is slashed, they also control very few reliable mechanisms to create revenue streams. Possibilities like an increase in sales tax, or a property tax levy, or a higher state income or corporate tax are all controlled by the state. And the state has yet to change their formula for their shared revenue program leaving the county, like the city, perpetually with their hands out.

On the wall were large sheets of paper, and scrawled across them were attendees’ ideas about funding options or what they would say to a state senator. They included support for an increased sales tax, or an income tax  for non-residents that work in Milwaukee County, a dedicated portion of property tax revenue for parks, and an entreaty to “Let us tax ourselves.”

The pay-to-park project was already part of the budget passed in November, but an amendment added by the Board of Supervisors requires their approval for the program to be carried out. The county currently operates a parking service at Mitchell International Airport and a lot in Westown, but Whaley-Smith said the county plans to contract with a private firm for this program because they don’t have the personnel or systems in place to handle it. The prospect of contracting for the service drew a huge booing rebuke from the crowd Tuesday that packed the greenhouse annex of the Mitchell Park Domes.

A few potential options for rolling out the plan included limiting the program to 47 parks charging between $1.50 and $2.50 for parking. This would bring in as much as $2.5 million. Another possibility would focus on fewer, more high-demand parks, potentially bringing in about $1.8 million. Especially with the high demand parks, Whaley-Smith noted the program would serve to capture revenue from out-of-town visitors.

At stake, really, is access to Milwaukee County Parks. While many simply don’t like the idea of paying for parking at a public park, others are concerned about access for low-income residents. Municipal fines like parking tickets have been identified as more than a nuisance for poorer residents of Milwaukee County, who at times have been jailed when they couldn’t pay them.

After an initial presentation, Lenore Lee, a volunteer at Lake Park, approached Abele at the front of the large greenhouse and told him she was disappointed. “We have low-income people that come to our park, they’re not going to be able to afford this.”

Abele told her no one, including himself, likes the idea of paying for parking at the parks.

“Well then you should have come up with other creative solutions,” she retorted.

“Well we’ve been working for six years, because we get less and less from the state,” Abele replied.

Lee told Abele that she volunteers at the parks and doesn’t want to pay for parking while she’s planting flowers and pulling weeds. And she told him, “Remember my name because I will not vote for you.”

Abele told Urban Milwaukee the difficulty with the proposal and the discussion that surrounds it is that, essentially, no one is wrong. “Nobody’s wrong to not want to pay more than they do, and nobody’s wrong to not want service cuts.”

There’s not a lot of money and there’s a lot at stake. Resentment of the pay- to-park policy is clearly very robust in Milwaukee County. But Abele said he’s sure that the other services the County is scrambling each year to fund are equally supported, like transit, support for the disabled, senior centers, or witness protection.

“The problem is they’re all coming out of the same budget, the biggest source of that budget is the state and the state’s giving us less,” he said.

Categories: Politics, Real Estate

25 thoughts on “Residents Jeer Pay-to-Park Plan”

  1. JD says:

    I think that people who can afford to own a car, pay for fuel, pay for insurance, and pay for maintenance can pay a fee to store it on public land. I think people need to understand that there is a great cost to “free parking,” and that the visceral reaction of rejection is misguided–many poor people don’t have cars at all. It is an example of a sense of entitlement — to get free parking at the expense of maintaining the parks. Please understand that supporting walking, biking, and transit offers far more returns in terms of social and environmental justice. Subsidizing drivers of cars does not. Please read up on many thoughts by intelligent people on the economics of free parking and the social injustice that flows from providing free parking.

  2. Joe B. says:

    As with most government services this will be subcontracted out
    Government will get 10 percent to 15 percent of the money.

  3. WashCoRepub says:

    You could ask this guy to chip in a little (from JSonline archives on pension backdrops):

    “Former deputy district attorney Jon Reddin, at age 63, collected the largest to date: $976,000, on top of monthly pension checks of $6,070 each.”

    He’s probably got a nice place away from Milwaukee though.

  4. Troll says:

    The opposition to the new tax appear to be based around the idea that this tax will hurt the poor. When did owning a vehicle become a symbol of poverty.

  5. tom says:

    Abele knew right where to go when the billionaire owners of the Bucks came calling for $4M per year for 20 years: MKE county taxpayers. Now he’s whining that he has no money and he has to charge to park at county parks. What a disappointment he’s been. I will not vote for Abele the phony again.

  6. Max says:

    Is it time to wrestle our parks away from the County and create a Parks District?

    I point to an excellent piece by Urban Milwaukee 1 year ago:

  7. Rich says:

    WashCoRepub = Jon Reddin? Even if not, the real WashCoRepub would sure as hell do the same thing he derides.

  8. Cody Roepke says:

    I think this is a great idea for those who want to visit parks around Milwaukee. If you look at a state like Colorado you need either a day pass or a year pass to get up to some of there parks and some of the mountains around there to go hiking. Do i think meter marking is the answer? No but it should be an option along with day passes to many of the parks and year passes to all of the parks. People that do not want to pay the small amount for parking in my opinion are selfish and do not want to see improvements being made to the parks. I assume with the extras cash flow they will be using it for the park system and to make it better rather than putting the money towards something else.

  9. JL Drost says:

    If you require stickers,passes,meters you’ll need people to monitor compliance which will cost $ when you add up the number of parks. What’s the fine gonna be for non compliance? How about dipping in to all that $ that goes to developers who want city help to build more apartments,etc. Why are we helping them– either get your own private financing or forget it. Also, all these bureaucratic agencies should be made to decrease their budgets by a certain % to fund the parks. There most certainly must be a ton of middle manager paper pushers and non essential projects that could be eliminated.

  10. Cody Roepke says:

    Im going to address only the first part of your comment. There are already parking police that run around the city and had out tickets so what would the cost analysis be of them driving into the parking lots of these parks? we dont know that because we dont run the numbers but there likely going to do something no matter what we as the people say so why not take there idea and skew it towards something that might be better for us? if you go to the parks all the time a pass is something that would benefit you and would probably be cheaper than feeding a meter. just saying take there idea and simply grow off it.

  11. Mini Me says:

    I wonder, are other sectors of county government being equally taxed by the pension burden? Maybe every time Abele trots off to Madison to work his magic, he needs to feed a meter.

  12. Amy Butterfield says:

    Hm. What would you do if you went to a park with paid parking spaces? Of course you’d drive up and down the neighboring streets to find the closest non-metered open space you could, then walk over to the park. I’d bet residents who live around parks will just love this.

  13. Cody Roepke says:

    Add meters around the park also and have the pass apply within so many blocks. The city needs money, everyone putting in a little will result in what we hope will be something much nicer and kept up with. Im sure each and everyone of us have spent money on something more foolish.

  14. park are for everyone says:

    The county blames the pension fund while trying to hide the elephant in the room of County debt: the new arena, which costs taxpayers $4 million a year for twenty years. The arena serves a limited wealthy population with 30 games per season and average attendance of 16,000 per game. The parks serves 1 million county residents of all income levels.

    Blaming our retired county employees for county debt is like blaming military veterans for federal debt. Its bad PR.
    Loyal and reliable county workers did not create this debt. The Arena Welfare Subsidy for visiting billionaire Bucks owners crushed the county debt.
    Abele take your body guards and GO away. You are ruining our once fair community.

  15. blurondo says:

    “State shared revenue funding to the county has dropped by about 50 percent, from $340.5 million to $171 million, from 2007 to 2015, according to information provided at the meeting.” Similar issues affect each municipality. The real mismanagement in Wisconsin is in the state government. This is an election year.

  16. Moving out of Milwaukee says:

    By 2028, without an increase in the tax levy, pension and healthcare will account for 97 percent of the county budget.

  17. SteveM says:

    @blurondo….Yes, yes, yes!!

  18. Troll says:

    State shared revenue funding dropped because public employees were going to have to share in the cost burdens of health insurance and pensions. The days of the public unions intimidating County Supervisors is over. Chris Abele and Theo Lipscomb have more control over the County budget. The pension scandal because public unions wanted a more generous life style on the tax payer.

  19. Supply & Demand says:

    All proposals being pitched would have a private operator installing and running it all. Parkers would need to cover all those costs with a profit for the vendor and the County’s expected cut.

    City staff or other operations will not be part of this. Nor can County force the City to put meters on nearby streets or to assist in compliance.

    County announced intent for a $2.50 HOURLY rate for Lakefront and other “high-demand” parks, such as ones with golf, beer gardens, pools etc. A vendor could demand an even higher rate. So outings to those places will cost $7 to $12 or more in parking for an average stay. How will that impact revenue now being generated from all those ventures?

    County offers no estimates about how $10 for 4 hours of parking might affect use of any park facility, public health, quality of life or tourism.

    Penny wise and pound foolish?

  20. Mary Polenz says:

    I think a special tax for people who work in Milwaukee county and live outside the county is an excellent idea. Maybe also a sticker is needed for out of county visitors to Milwaukee co. Parks!

  21. Roger Bybee says:

    Let’s not get suckered into County Executive’s framework. If we listen to him, the only question is how we come up with $1.6 million from his favored solution of parking meters creating a long gray wall discouraging poor and working-class people from using the parks. All the funds to be gathered–minus the rakeoff of up to 90% by private vendors operating the meters–will only maintain the parks in the current state of disrepair to which they have been allowed to deteriorate.

    Abele’s staff literally speaks the language of “return on investment” and the meters as a “revenue stream,” betraying a mindset contrary to our public “commons.” They even speak of the parking costs as encouraging “greater turnover,” which suggests that the county seeks to impose briefer family picnics, faster softball games and rounds of golf, and quicker “relaxed” walks enjoying nature.

    Instead, we need a broader view:
    1) ‘LUNGS OF THE CITY” FOR ALL The park system was built and maintained by public-minded democratic socialist mayors and other elected officials to serve as free, open spaces accessible for people who live in over-crowded, polluted, crime-ridden neighborhoods to find a place for relaxation and recreation. Are we going to allow Abele and Co. to toss aside this humane legacy and one of Milwaukee’s most cherished assets that we have enjoyed for more than a century?

    2) PROGRESSIVE, NOT REGRESSIVE REVENUE SOURCES: Entirely off the table at the most recent gathering stage-managed by the County were progressive means of funding the parks and restoring them fully to their past state of glory. For example, what about the $ million a year handed over to the Milwaukee Bucks owners (combined net worth of the three principals: over $5 billion)?

    What about the $26 million a year in sales-tax revenue raised by the Brewers’ Miller Park stadium, of which not a single penny flows back to the county?

    We must reject the framework laid out by Abele and his minions, along with their undemocratic ploys to block full public participation, and fight to restore the parks to their original mission and traditionally high standards of beauty. That will mean biting the hand of Abele’s allies to obtain fair and progressive funding of the parks system,

  22. Diane says:

    I was around when County Executive Ament and the County Board came up with their plan to make we taxpayers pay for their pensions for the next generation. That generation is here and I wonder why the pensions have not been addressed given the fact the unions are no longer strong! Can someone please address that issue!

    Parking meters around parks are a terrible idea because the County would not receive that much revenue. By contracting out the parking meters building, maintaining and collecting, the County would only receive about 10%. MC has always done a poor job of bringing in revenue for their facilities and recreational programs.

    Milwaukee County Parks needs dedicated funding like many other park districts have. An advisory referendum passed supporting this idea about ten years ago. Where has Abele and the Supervisors been during this period? Certainly not lobbying the state or coming up with ideas for dedicated funding!

  23. Douglas says:

    That’s my friend, Lenore Lee! A long time activist and steward of all things Milwaukee. Watch out! She will work diligently to make sure everyone knows about this fiasco with parking meters and who is responsible! Lenore makes sure priorities are straight and voters are informed!

  24. mike says:

    WTF. 18% of Milwaukee families don’t even own cars to park and we want to prioritize free parking for social justice reasons? Where was this altruism when we were cutting transit service and raising fares?

    It seems to me that our parks have one serious parking problem. Way too much of it. This year alone, we’re budgeted to spend $2.1 million dollars to resurface the parking lots at McKinley marina (so yacht owners can park for free… so much for social justice) Those lots amount to 15 acres of prime lake front surface parking. Collectively, the McKinley parking crater are about the same size as the economy lots at the airport! What self-respecting park system would put something like that in the “jewel” of the system? And why would we ever defend that behavior?

  25. EricS says:

    Pay to park your personal vehicle at county parks? If there is enough demand for parking that it makes sense, then absolutely. I’d much rather have parks funding spent on playgrounds, green space, trails, and the like than on storage space for private vehicles.

    Let’s be clear, this would be a charge to park your private vehicle at a park, not a charge to visit a park. If you take a bus to visit a park, you probably already pay a bus fare. It’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that you should also pay a “fare” if you want to store your car at a park.

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