Milwaukee County parks face funding crisis, officials ask for public input

NOW: Milwaukee County parks face funding crisis, officials ask for public input

MILWAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- For 35 years, Milwaukee County Parks system's funding hasn't grown, according to officials.

They say unless something changes by 2027, the parks' "non-essential" status set by the state Legislature could mean no local funding for managing the 15,000 acres of parks.

Milwaukee County park officials said the damage to the parking lot near Bradford beach is just one example of the $500 million in deferred maintenance issues that they face. They say that situation isn't going to get any better unless something changes, which is why they're asking for your input.

Milwaukee County Parks Director of Administration and Planning Jeremy Lucas says $40 million in 1985 money looks very different in 2022.

"If our budget had kept up with inflation, we'd be somewhere in the mid-$90 [millions]," said Lucas, emphasizing that their $40 million budget hasn't increased in 35 years.

He said around half comes from property taxes, the rest of that funding comes from direct revenue streams like food and drink, the marina, and golfing.

Lucas says Milwaukee County's park system is one of few in the country that operates this way.

In the summer, it takes up to 1,500 people to manage it all.

"It takes a lot of people," said Lucas, to cut grass, take care of trees, and he says they still can't even afford adequate staffing for things like pools. "Without those lifeguards, we can't. We can't staff the pools, because it's not safe."

Seeing crisis on the horizon, they partnered with the Wisconsin Policy Form to try and come up with solutions.

"As they put the numbers together and realize slowly over time our funding decreasing, I think that's why they decided to call it a 'sinking treasure,'" said Lucas.

"Sinking Treasure" is a look at the future of the park. You can take a survey to give your input on potential solutions by clicking here.

Everything from referendums on new property taxes to changing how certain parts of the parks are funded are being considered.

"We would like the public's input on that, on which way we should move forward," said Lucas, adding that the survey ends at the end of the week.

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