'This isn't the answer': Residents angered over pay to park plan for Milwaukee County Parks

More than 100 people showed up to a public meeting at The Mitchell Park Domes Tuesday night, to share their anger over a proposal to charge a fee to park at all Milwaukee County parks, including along Lincoln Memorial Drive.

The meeting was supposed to be an hour and a half, but lasted more than three hours. Tempers flared. County residents confronted Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele about the proposal.

“I know they talk about a budget, but I really wonder why this parking fee was hidden and not brought to us,” said Tala Clark.  “It deserves a public hearing or vote.”

Clark says this could really impact her family. She already pays a lot so that her two sons can play baseball and hockey at Whitnall and Wilson Parks. 

“If this goes through, I’m afraid we might not get to play anymore because we spend at least four hours every Monday through Friday at the rink or baseball diamond,” she said. “Not to mention, at least every other weekend. Parking would be astronomical for me. I couldn’t do it.”

“Nobody’s wrong to not want to pay more for government,” Abele said. “They’re right.”

But he says if the county does not come up with more about $1.6 million, services will be cut.

“It’s hard to say what’s more important,” Abele said. “Parks are important. But so is transit, and services for people with disabilities, and senior centers. All these services are important and shouldn’t be cut.”

He blames a continuous decrease in state funding over the past 10 years.

“The best way to try and change this is to talk to your state legislators because that’s where the change can ultimately happen," he said. 

But many county residents say that’s a cop-out, and believe there has to be a better solution.

“As a county, we could and should come up with something better,” Clark says. “This isn’t the answer.”

The Milwaukee County Board did approve Abele’s paid-parking revenue in the 2018 budget. A work group was commissioned to study how to best implement paid parking. They’ve been studying rates between $1 to $2.50 per hour. 

Some county supervisors who attended the public meeting shared their anger that Abele did not stay to listen to public comment.

State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff says forcing people to pay to park at public parks is discrimination against families who don’t have the means. 

But, if no other revenue-generating plan is created, parking meters at parks and along Milwaukee’s lakefront could be a reality by summer.

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