County Exec Drops Proposed Parking Fee to Fund Milwaukee County Parks

Feb 13, 2018

Update 11:50 am:

With the message "You Spoke, I Listened," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced the Pay-to-Park Initiative would be removed from the 2018 budget.  Abele is now suggesting the County's rainy day contingency fund to "fully fund our Parks department for this year."

Abele calls the measure a temporary fix. "I am pleased that we will be able to avoid charging visitors from paying to park their vehicles this year. But I must caution that this ia a short-term solution to a long-term problem," he said in a release Tuesday.
 Original story, February 6, 2018:

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele proposed a pay-to-park measure in his 2018 budget in order to support the parks system. Parking fees are being proposed for both street parking as well as within park parking lots.

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 pm Tuesday, February 6 at the Mitchell Park Domes, which happens to be one of the parks being considered for paid parking.

At a January Parks, Energy and Environment Committee meeting, Abele said until he can convince state leaders to send more dollars to the county, he has to turn to other means to sustain parks. “We all wish that the state would give us more, but all of our jobs are to make decisions with not the facts we wish, but with the reality we have," he outlined.

However, members of the Milwaukee County Board -- as well as residents -- are raising concerns.

Committee chair Supervisor Jason Haas wanted to make certain that county residents understand the pay-to-park idea was not penned by the Board. “In the proposed budget, the County Executive claimed the pay-to-park program would generate $1.6 million in new revenue for the county. This is not backed up with data or any other information at how this figure was arrived at, nor what parks would be included.”

Map of potential paid parking locations within Milwaukee County Parks.
Credit Milwaukee County & Milwaukee County Parks

A task force has been working out the details of the parking plan - such as how much to charge and who would administer the program.

Teig Whaley-Smith, director of the Department of Administrative Services, says the task force is also determining which parks would be folded into the plan.

“There were a couple of criteria that the work group used to establish. One is whether it’s a regional draw -- does it draw patrons from outside Milwaukee County? Are there special events held there? [Is] there food and beverage access? What activities are there?...the return on investment to make sure there’s as much demand on parking to recoup the capital cost,” Whaley-Smith explains. “Also measuring public use for private benefits when parkland or parkways are being used for parking -- not just for parking purposes, but to support other private enterprises.”

Whaley-Smith told the committee it’s essential to move this policy forward quickly – with a launch date of April 1 – in order to hit the $1.6 million goal.

County resident Roz Tortorna opposes the plan. "It feels a little like a steam roller, it feels like there’s no openness... there is not a call for citizens to actually say what they feel."

Colleen Riley, president of Lake Park Friends, called the proposed measure 'one of the most significant changes in the use of the park system in its history.' She urged county supervisors to consider another amendment to create a new task force. “This is such a significant change in the use of parks to evaluate... There are a lot of smart people out there that could come up with alternate solutions, if there truly is a $1.6 million deficit in the parks system that cannot be filled in any other way.”

Committee member Supervisor Dan Sebring said he cannot support the pay-to-park plan and added that his constituents vehemently oppose it.

“No less than 25 constituents came to see me about this very issue. Half a dozen of them were golfers who swore to me that if this gets put into place, they will never golf in Milwaukee County again," Sebring says. "Some of them, who have kids participating in athletic activities, said if they have to pay to park to be with their children while they participate in these activities, they would never have their children participate in athletic activities in a Milwaukee County Park ever again."

Meanwhile, Jim Sullivan, Abele’s proposed parks director, adamantly supports the pay-to-park plan, saying many cities -- including Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon -- have already implemented similar policies.

"I think one of the things being missed a little bit in this discussion is when you’re talking about paid parking, one of the things that does is that it takes what is unproductive asphalt space, which is only a cost, and it converts that….to actually be supporting active programming in greenspace,” he said.