Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program - red, blue, and yellow playground equipment in a small park surrounded by trees

Community parks are important, but finding the money to fund them is not easy

Wisconsinites love our parks, but how these spaces are funded is not sustainable.

With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, state park use increased a lot, according to research by the Wisconsin Policy Forum. People started spending way more time in public outdoor spaces, but some communities are now struggling to fund parks, bike trails, dog parks, and even golf courses.

Representatives from Milwaukee and Madison County Parks spoke at a virtual roundtable event recently, discussing how parks are funded and the financial struggles communities are experiencing now, especially with increased usage of these spaces. Permits for some activities create revenue, but maintenance costs are increasing and expenses are expected to keep climbing.

Parks are expected to see a financial shortcoming in the next six years if additional funding isn’t found, said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, as reported by Wisconsin Public Radio.

“I think it’s important to understand that the way we fund parks is just not sustainable,” Crowley said during the roundtable hosted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

report assessing the financial state of Milwaukee County parks found that funding from property taxes dropped from 74 percent in 1989 to 43 percent in 2019. Madison still relies on property taxes with 75 percent of the parks budget coming from taxes in 2020, but that could change.

“Seeing us at 75 percent general purpose revenue today and Milwaukee County at that in 1989 before it went down, I have a feeling we’re on a similar trajectory,” said Eric Knepp, Madison Parks superintendent.

Parks play an important role in the health and wellness of our communities. Milwaukee County has been ranking poorly for years in health outcomes, and low-income residents and communities of color in both Milwaukee and Madison counties have access to about 70 percent less park space.

So, what can be done? State funding for parks is voluntary and less money is expected to be available for parks, public transportation or safety. This is where sources of funding like the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program come into play, providing support for spaces that are open to the public for recreation, while at the same time supporting a healthy ecosystem.

Featured image by Carl Wycoff, 2012.

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