Many city park systems around the country are faced with increasing deferred maintenance costs to repair or replace facilities. This ranges from neglected Olmsted-designed parks to aging playground equipment, benches and walkways.
One system that embodies this is Milwaukee County, which runs the city and county parks and has an estimated $200 million backlog of fix-ups. A new report from the county auditor, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says leaders have “shortchanged upkeep on some of its 156 parks comprising 15,000 acres over three decades, with resulting widespread deterioration except at the system’s showcase venues.”
The report also gives the parks department praise, noting that is one of the best run agencies in the country. In short, the agency has learned how to do a lot with very little.
The audit recommends that the county should consider selling parkland, adding more private ventures in parks and replacing some park facilities with lower-cost buildings.
Nowhere in the report is a recommendation (or even a presented option) to provide more public funding. Ironically, a sales tax dedicated funding parks was approved in an advisory referendum by county voters. The article in the Journal Sentinel indicates that the report did not include this “hot-button” issue, inferring that it shied away from it on purpose (even though it included the very contentious idea of selling parks).
When auditors undertake such reviews, it is necessary to look at all options. When considering that the County system ranks low in funding among its peer cities, an obvious option (along with other solutions) would be more money.