MILWAUKEE -- The debate over whether Milwaukee County should charge people to park at its parks, including along the lakefront, opened to the public Tuesday. The county board's parks committee listened to testimony from people mostly opposed to the idea. Officials who favor the idea said they understand the opposition but believe the alternatives are worse.
As the committee wrapped up its hearing, Sarah Stanley was in awe of the big winter waves at Bradford Beach Tuesday.
"It's so beautiful to just come and see the waves crashing on the snow. We're from Las Vegas originally, so this is completely new to us," said Stanley.
Stanley and her husband are in grad school. She said they're against the idea of paying to park at county parks.
"We come down here every time it snows, so if we had to pay every time, it'd be really hard," Stanley said.
At a meeting of the Milwaukee County Board's Parks, Energy and Environment Committee Tuesday, the proposal got a rocky reception.
"Do you want that to be your legacy? I agree with many of the statements people have said prior that you're going to end up with a lot of angry county residents," said Colleen Riley, who opposes the proposal.
"If we reject this completely, which I believe we should..." said Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic.
The Milwaukee County budget for 2018 already includes $1.6 million that is slated to come from parks parking revenue. Dimitrijevic said it would be unfair to paint opponents of the proposal as being in favor of cuts or other increases. County Executive Chris Abele, who supports the plan, said those are the only realistic alternatives should the board reject the parking plan.
"Minneapolis -- the parks system charges for parking. I don't think it's because they love the idea of charging, they just want sustainability. At some point, we don't get to ignore math," said Abele.
The Milwaukee County Board has decided to vote on the proposal separately. If the board rejects all or part of the plan, the money would have to come from somewhere else. Dimitrijevic has already proposed an ordinance that would prohibit the county from charging for lakefront parking. The Abele administration said that would eliminate about $800,000 in revenue.
"It’s all well and good to say the tough decisions you’re not willing to make but unless you have- at the end of the day, we need solutions and it’s gotta work," said Abele.
Dimitrijevic said she knows the money would have to come from a different source but added she's adamantly opposed to charging for parks parking because it could lead to rate hikes in the years to come.
Both the board and Abele agreed they should work in unison to fight for a more favorable state revenue sharing deal in Madison. Such an agreement is unlikely with the current Republican-controlled legislature, meaning a more immediate solution is needed should the board reject the parking measure.
"Are you gonna raise fees elsewhere? Are you gonna make cuts elsewhere that are not gonna be popular? You can't just oppose something without a solution. That's what I'll ask (other supervisors,)" said Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve Taylor.
Stanley said she hopes the end result is continued free parking, or at least something that won't freeze people out.
The county is currently doing a study on how paid parking would work at county parks. That report should be finished in March. In the meantime, another public hearing will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at the Mitchell Park Domes.