County Parks Lost Funding to Bucks Arena
July 8, 2020 | Topics: Issues
Business leaders promised to seek funding for parks and museums. Where is it?
By Patricia Jursik
Long arguing that the most attended sporting facility in our county is the Oak Leaf Trail, I can say without controversy that this is an absolutely true statement since the stadium, Fiserv Forum and most other smaller fields are closed to crowds during the pandemic. Yet the funding crisis in our public parks has reached such critical mass that the county cut not fat, but real amenities diminishing our public treasures including closing picnic areas, pavilions, deep-well pools, reduced grass cutting and others. Yet the trail system has received record usage during the pandemic along with the open green space that the parks offer.
It is noteworthy that two events are taking place simultaneously this summer: one lesser known exhibit at our Milwaukee County Historical Society on the history of the progressive leaders in Milwaukee sometimes called sewer socialists or simply socialists. (“Better, Bigger, Brighter: 150 Years of Milwaukee Politics.”) The other is the highly publicized Democratic National Convention (DNC) which is under contract with the management of the Fiserv Forum, the Buck’s management lead by Peter Feigin. I have not read the contract between the Fiserv management and the DNC, but I doubt that the terms of this contract contain provisions on the pandemic and quarantine since it was negotiated before these realities became known. Most contracts contain boilerplate language around unknown contingencies often labelled an Act of God clause. How this is resolved remains to be seen.
The DNC has cancelled use of Fiserv Forum and will hold a virtual convention in Milwaukee. The great event that was to attract 50,000 users to Milwaukee will be a petrie dish of its former self. Legal threats to collect under the contract by Bucks Management and an ensuing default by the DNC followed. Visitors and delegates have cancelled plans to come to Milwaukee.
Yet citizens of Milwaukee are still here. We experience the continued erosion of our public assets. Fiserv Forum continues to receive 4 million per year in local property tax support of a closed facility–money that came directly out of our Parks Budget. As the Chair of the Economic Development Committee of the county board at the time our county was reviewing sale of Fiserv land, local supervisors were asking the same questions that the socialists like Frank Zeidler or Daniel Hoan asked–how will our local citizens be served and how can we pay for it–a new arena to replace one just built in the 1980s. Supervisors knew that our parks and museums were already being neglected, no new sources of revenue were available and the only way to build the new facility was to obtain a new funding source.
In fact, Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce agreed that if the new Fiserv Forum was built, a new revenue had to be found for our parks and museums. But the east coast financiers and their lobbyists in the chamber took this decision out of the hands of local supervisors and got state legislators to require local property tax dollars fund the arena out of our existing revenue. In the end, the money came out of our discretionary funds for Parks and Transit to pay this new line item. The leadership of the chamber never made good on their promise for new revenue to support parks and museums. There is a lesson to be learned: local decisions should be made by local leaders. Fiserv management must understand that we are all suffering during this pandemic and their aggressive tactics to get their share is not beneficial to the local community. Everyone wants to see the Bucks return to finish a great season, but not this way. Finally, the metro chamber needs to fulfill their promise to find new revenue to support services the entire region enjoys through our local property taxes, a free lunch for the WOW communities.
All photographs by Eddee Daniel, board member of Preserve Our Parks. The featured photo at the top is of the Oak Leaf Trail in the Root River Parkway, Franklin.
This article was previously published in Urban Milwaukee on July 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.