What's In Store for 2021?

January 4, 2021

MILWAUKEE COUNTY PARK SYSTEM FUNDING IS BROKEN

And this directly impacts the services that we are able to provide to you. Going back to the way things were pre-pandemic won’t solve the problem. Within the context of limited staff capacity, failing facilities, budget constraints, and reduced service levels, we remain focused on racial equity and public health. We owe it to future generations to re-envision what we can become - with the resources we have -  to ensure that our parks system will be there for them. With a keen mindfulness of the entire system, here are a few of the service level changes anticipated for 2021...

1 - OPERATIONS SERVICE REDUCTIONS

There’s nothing left to trim but services, which means that many of the cost-saving initiatives implemented in 2020 may return, including:

- Seasonal staffing interruptions resulting in reduced mowing and trash collection, limited restroom openings, and other basic service level reductions. Seasonal labor will be prioritized to support revenue-generating services

- Lifeguard shortages due to lack of training sites because of COVID-related pool closures.

- Continued facility closures at McCarty, Jackson, Grobschmidt, Hales Corners, and Holler pools.

- Partial opening of wading pools and splash pads equitably distributed throughout the county.

2 - ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICE REDUCTIONS

Due to the ongoing constraints of reduced staffing, the following services will be suspended or extremely limited, per Parks discretion and pending public safety, over the next year. It is our hope to resume these processes in 2022, pending staff capacity.

- External/third party/community project requests including Park Improvement Project requests

- Non-budget approved initiatives and/or other requests that do not align with Parks mission or staffing capacity

- Land utilization permit requests

- Land acquisition requests

- Art installation requests (including murals)

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Over the past decade, funding for basic park operations, staffing, and commodities (supplies) have been cut past lean. Our shrinking staff have carried the burden of cuts for years, doing more with less and less. Since 2017, our budget has been reduced by $5 million, continuing a decades-long pattern of required annual budget reductions for Parks.

Parks receives little-to-no funding from the State because it is a non-mandated service. Many County services are mandated, which means that by law they must be funded. This is not the case for Parks and the result is that when financial crisis hits the County, Parks is among the first departments to face fiscal cuts. Additionally, taxes cover less than 40% of our annual operating budget with the remaining 60% coming from user revenues. For context, Parks & Recreation agencies across the country generate an average of 23% of their annual budgets from user revenues.

Unfortunately, with COVID-19, the public health crisis of racism, and ongoing climate change, years of operating under unsustainable funding structures are catching up with the system. Parks’ staff were stretched all too thin during 2020, and similar impacts will continue to be felt throughout the system in 2021. Parks must continue many of the cost-saving initiatives implemented over the past year. And think hard about what we can become in the future.