Op Ed

It’s Our Turn to Fund Public Parks

Money for Bucks, Brewers, Foxconn? How about saving our public parks?

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Oak Leaf Trail

Oak Leaf Trail

After taxpayers paid to build Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers, after taxpayers paid to build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, and after taxpayers have subsidized the Foxconn project, Milwaukee County taxpayers must demand that it is time to use tax money to revitalize and maintain our free public parks.

It is our turn, our turn to direct public funding to our Milwaukee County parks. Preserve Our Parks (POP) is mounting an “Our Turn” petition drive in advance of the 2019 county budget to ward off the reintroduction of parking meters or other pay-to-play ploys as an excuse to defund our public parks.

Our parks are in crisis, and it is time to address the issues that have led to their continuing decline.  Consider, for example, the Oak Leaf Trail, the 118-mile pathway that runs throughout Milwaukee County’s parks and parkways. This heavily used public trail is one of the greatest assets in our county. It is free to use and open to the public. Yet the trail is rapidly deteriorating, and so are the parks that surround it as our public funds are diverted for other purposes such as the financial interests of private franchisees.

It is “Our Turn” to find a source of dedicated funding for our public parks and trails. These parks and trails which have thousands of users, more than spectators of local professional sport teams, offer healthy activities to the public. Like all our parks, the Oak Leaf Trail is accessible to diverse populations and is essential to our economic viability as a county. Our parks and trails offer employers added value when attracting new employees and are important for drawing talented workers to our city.

The parks are vital to the health and quality of life of our community. They are the lungs of our county providing green space, and our parks also act as a sponge for our healthy waterways to prevent flooding and preserve clean water. Parks offer a respite from the concrete and steel of dense city life and are the welcome green space for workers.

Our ancestors built this wonderful legacy of public parks during the years of the Great Depression. POP refuses to hear that there is no money to support our public parks when state and local governments divert money to build assets for private franchises. Losing gems such as Mitchell Park Domes, Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Lake Park, Boerner Botanical Gardens, our South Shore emerald necklace of parks along the lakefront or any of the other park is unthinkable. Yet government leaders are failing to commit sufficient resources to protecting this heart and soul of our county.

Citizens must demand dedicated public financing for our public parks. POP will host public meetings to amplify the public’s voice in demanding proper, sustainable funding for our parks. Let your voice be heard at these meetings. It is our turn.

James Goulee, President, and Patricia Jursik, Board Member, Preserve Our Parks 

Categories: Politics, Real Estate

16 thoughts on “Op Ed: It’s Our Turn to Fund Public Parks”

  1. Eric S says:

    Ugh, again conflating parks with parking lots. Yes, let’s properly fund parks and recreation facilities. But, no, asking motorists to pay for storing their private property at parks is not the problem. In fact, it should be part of the solution.

  2. michael says:

    @Eric S. This year, the county is spending $2.1M on just phase 1 of 3 to resurface our 15 acres of lakefront surface parking at the McKinley Marina. No word what phases 2 & 3 will cost…

    http://county.milwaukee.gov/ImageLibrary/Groups/cntyDAS/PSB/Budgets/2018-Budget/2018-Adopted-Budget/2018AdoptedCapitalBudget_FINAL-.pdf

    About 80% of our parks’ capital improvement budget goes to resurfacing parking lots. Pathetic.

  3. Keith says:

    Tax a portion of the revenue from the Buck’s Arena, Miller Park and Foxconn to upgrade, improve, maintain and repair all of the MKE County Parks system.

  4. Charles Q. Sullivan says:

    There are a number of volunteer groups around the city that work to maintain the parks, but each of those groups needs more support and more participation. The touted effort to light the Hoan Bridge points to an effort and expense to illuminate a SYMBOL of what the city has to offer, rather than to support actual down-to-earth and accessible actual ATTRIBUTES of our city and county.

    As much as I appreciate the sentiment behind this idea (not yet really a proposal), I side with those who would prefer less, rather than more, illumination. The money required to develop, initiate, and maintain this idea might better be put into maintenance of our parks — for the benefit of all the residents and as an attraction for visitors from around the world.

    Beyond the needs for safety, security, and visibility, excessive artificial lighting unnecessarily interferes with an already declining asset: the visibility of the stars in the night sky, and the reflection of that sky on the lake.

    Charles

  5. David says:

    While I fundamentally agree that we need to better fund our parks the author gets it dead wrong on parking. There is no such thing as free parking. As other commenters have noted the cost of maintaining the parking lots is substantial and they add nothing to the parks except easy access for air polluting, noise polluting, space wasting personal automobiles. At a minimum we should be charging enough for parking to cover the cost of maintaining the lots.

  6. Troll says:

    Hire more transgendered county employees is more important than excess green space. Maybe if we convince people to watch grass and weeds grown instead of Giannis Abacapoopoo. We can monetize the parks. Giannis pays a lot of taxes…grass not smoked does not.

  7. over it says:

    The parks are under utilized. While all of the private Country Clubs and Green Spaces hold lavish weddings, the Golf Courses operated by Milwaukee county are quiet by 7pm. There are so many uses for these park to create their own funding not using the tax base and the County over looks it. Most communities have business managers and sales people that are tasked with events and finding ways to make parks revenue generating, not Milwaukee County. Finally, what does POP contribute? Where is their Gala, their major fund raisers? Or are they just going to arm chair like every other activist group in the county. Instead of trying to protect parking structures from becoming taxable high rises, put your efforts into creating a Friends of the Parks group. Don’t shame others because your not good at doing business.

  8. Patricia Jursik says:

    Re Parking issue: Municipal Parks are not State Parks, this wisdom was given to me by Sue Black. State Parks have a single entry point and can easily collect fees. Municipal Parks can be entered via many points. Cars do and will continue to get many folks to our county parks. If lots collect fees, drivers will simply park on city streets and walk in via many abutting areas.

    While a city works for density and pedestrian friendly spaces, it is reality today and for decades to come that users will drive and park. Let’s stop talking about parking lots and concentrate on the issue at hand: our parks are being deprived of needed revenue as our elected leaders (mostly state, not local) strip-mine our stream of public funding to fund private enterprise which cause the wealthy to get wealthier. Foxconn, and the multi-millionaire sport franchises could fund their own improvements, but hey, why not just capture a few state office holders and get them to do their bidding: drive up profits and leave bread crumbs for workers who use public parks as their one free respite. Get real people:
    We need a grass roots wave, one that demands that we stop strip-mining our public revenue streams.

  9. Mary says:

    cost to go to Miller Park on Saturday:

    $15 general parking,
    $40 tickets ($20 each for Terrace tickets, the cheapest we were told were available)
    $18 dollars for two hot dogs and a regular-sized draft beer ….
    total: $73.00

    “… no other urban park system in the country is trying to finance its operations solely through earned revenue…”
    “…generated revenue “is a small portion of most city parks’ budgets.”
    Charlie McCabe, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, quoted in a Shepherd Express piece…..https://shepherdexpress.com/news/features/milwaukee-county-parks-at-a-crossroads/#/questions

    “Public opposition to collecting parking fees this year at Milwaukee County parks and parkways persuaded County Executive Chris Abele on Tuesday to kill the plan and tap a contingency fund to fill the resulting $1.6 million hole in the parks budget for 2018.”

    https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/milwaukee/2018/02/13/chris-abele-cancels-plan-collect-parking-fees-milwaukee-county-parks-and-parkways-year/331505002/

    We need a long term sustainable plan and funding source.
    Come and learn more:
    The next town hall will be held in the Firefly Room at the Wauwatosa Public Library, 7635 W. North Ave., at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 .
    https://urbanmilwaukee.com/pressrelease/preserve-our-parks-to-hold-public-town-hall-meeting-in-tosa-on-july-10/

  10. over it says:

    Mary, I don’t know that the revenue could ever solely fund Milwaukee Co. Parks, but at least try to bridge the gap in the short fall. Brown Co. Parks are self funded up to 73% with a goal of being totally off the tax base by 2020, hence the hiring of a Business Manager for the parks department. I would rather see more revenue generating events or ideas that will actually bring folks out to use the parks than the band-aid that was purposed earlier this year with parking meters.

  11. Patricia Jursik says:

    #10: No doubt earned revenue will continue as it is for Milwaukee County Parks. Here is the rub: when leases with private parties are signed, especially ones calling for their participation in site improvement, the lease holder will want to protect this investment by calling for tighter security and even fencing off an area. If this activity leads to loss of public access, I’d rather see use of public dollars for public access, not loss of access. I am not criticizing the lease holder, just pointing out the reality. Also, if Parks can turn a profit, why not let the public benefit from that profit, not a private party.

  12. Javik says:

    You lost your credibility as an organization with the Couture fight

  13. Patricia Jursik says:

    #12: Get your facts straight. Milwaukee County, seeking to determine if Public Trust was violated, brought a declaratory judgment action and named POP as a defendant. POP did a public service by representing the public’s right to access guaranteed under Public Trust. The trial court ruled that because Couture will have a public park and allow public transit under the building, it did not breech the Public Trust. POP did not appeal the judge’s ruling. I know the mentality of some is to have a right to unfettered development when and where they like, including park land. Citizens favoring public parks and public access, not just gated communities for the rich, are indebted to POP, no matter how often the pro-development mentality wishes to put out fake news instead of discussing the issues. Couture is still not in development, two years later, and we all need to ask if they have been able to get their financing in order which I suspect is the real reason we have not seen this high rise on our lake front. So Javik, Couture is the one losing credibility.

  14. Virginia Small says:

    “Over it,”‘

    Milwaukee County Parks already does garner the lion’s share of its operating budget (about 65%) from revenue derived from fees, rentals, concessions and such. That’s among the highest for any metropolitan park systems, according to the Trust for Public Land, which analyzes and publishes comparable data for 100 largest U.S. cities through its ParkScore.

    Milwaukee County Parks already has had a chief of Business and Recreation Services for quite a while and recently hired a development coordinator to help fund raise in various ways.

    Also, there are 50-some parks friends groups, most of which operate under the umbrella of the nonprofit Park People, which is several decades old. Just within Milwaukee’s city limits, last year parks volunteers contributed labor valued at $5 million. Several friends groups raise hundreds of thousands annually. ‘

    https://shepherdexpress.com/news/features/milwaukee-county-parks-at-a-crossroads/

    Q to Michael (#2). What is the basis for your assertion about capital spending for parks’ parking lot surfacing? Is that for one year (2018?) Recent capital projects have covered trail expansion, new or upgraded pavilions, golf course clubhouses, restrooms, and picnic shelters; and infrastructure projects involving bridges, removal of concrete from river beds, roadway projects and more.

  15. over it says:

    Virginia, the budgets have been slashed so much that 65% is much less than what it appears to support, with the same amount of infrastructure. The county way is to slash the budget if there is a short fall, hire less, provide less and the results are evident with every building and road deteriorating. Much of Milwaukee Co, is mismanaged by an old boys club that has been running the county for decades. Before we start calling on the tax payers to contribute more, we need to make sure the right people are in place to spend that money.

  16. William Lynch says:

    The Couture site is now of no use to the public. The park that was on the top of the transit center, the community room that was there as a meeting place and wedding venue is gone. If nothing is done about this it looks as if we might return to surface parking on our beautiful Lakefront. We will be returning to the days of Patsy and Paul’s Parking Lot. Interest rates are rising. The financing of luxury apartments in our downtown is getting tougher. The street car was to have its station there. Now will the City and the County (that sold the Couture site for $500,000) devote parkland across Lincoln Memorial Drive to the streetcars? When is the County going to bite the bullet and exercise their right to take back the Couture site?

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