From the infuriating press release department, a statement about just how awesome the recently passed County Board budget is for parks:
With regard to Milwaukee County Parks, the budget protects this treasured resource by creating a Parks Amenities Matching Fund that will pay for outstanding deferred maintenance without a burden on the tax levy.
The Fund stands to raise approximately $800,000 for the Parks, based on revenue projections of two new beer gardens, anticipated Milwaukee County land sales estimates and leveraged donations. – wispolitics.com
As I pointed out in this post several days ago when this plan first came up, it's long on promises but short on specifics. Even more frustrating to someone like me is this verbal high fiving that the in the press release that the Board is doing anything concrete to "protect" parks. I spoke to several Supervisors over the summer that they should commit to putting real money into the parks budget. After all the amount of lax levy the parks receive hasn't changed in over 30 years. I was hopeful that a group of people who campaigned very hard about "supporting parks" would finally use their power to support parks with tangible financial support.
Instead, we got a proposal based on projections and estimates and promises of "private donations", but with no details or concrete numbers. $800,000 on selling beer and land? And then, it will go into some "fund" controlled by the County Board only to address deferred maintenance? Really?
For the sake of argument let's try to see where that $800,000 could come from.
Beer sales: Even if two new beer gardens open next summer, and even if they're as successful as the one in Estabrook Park and bring in $64,000 each, that's $192,000 for next year. Lots of "ifs" there.
Land sales: The County doesn't have a stellar history with it's ability to sell land. Hello, Park East. Even the County's own "property for sale" page is pretty slim pickings. Couple that with the fact that a previous Board resolution that the first $450k of any land sales are already promised to go to other programs, and you have to wonder where any initial, much less sustainable, money is going to go towards parks.
"Leveraged donations": This is the biggest question of all because no where in the resolution that was approved to create this "fund" is anything at all spelled out about private donations, matching money or "leveraged donations". I've put inquires into my own Supervisor to ask what they're referring to with this, but a week later haven't gotten a response. Surprise.
So maybe you can see why many park supporters are skeptical of this plan and frustrated that with so few details, the Board is patting themselves on the back for "protecting" parks.
So the best case scenario for this plan brings in maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars in 2014. Then the Board will have to approve any plans for how it's used, and who knows how long that will take. While $200k is a lot of money, the fact is it's like throwing thimbles full of water on the fire that is $250,000,000 in deferred maintenance in our parks. Heck, even if you take the $800k/year number at face value, it would still take over 30 years to address the $250 million in deferred maintenance.
To be clear, I'm not trying to throw cold water on this for the sake of throwing cold water. But at the end of the day, all that's being done here is taking money the parks already make and giving it back to them with the beer garden plan.
There is absolutely no hard financial commitment from the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to our parks in this budget. Doing so would have meant increasing the Park Departments $24 tax levy in a tangible way.
That kind of real commitment would have deserved self praise in a press release and high fives from park supporters. Instead, they did what County Government has done for over 30 years: they kicked the can down the road once again when it comes to supporting our parks with funding. Sadly, I'll be updating this chart to show that like past years, 2013 was not a year that County Government made the choice to move the needle on parks funding.
Spare us the self-congratulatory press releases, revenue "estimates" and rosy projections and give parks tangible and meaningful support.