Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Zoo's vote elephant-sized

Taxpayers provide a third of budget

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Elephant manager Cecil Jackson feeds Semliki, an okapi, at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Tuesday.
([name of photographer] photo)
| ZOOM |
Hamilton County voters threw their support - and their tax dollars - behind the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Tuesday.

With 1,010 of 1,013 precincts reporting, a special property tax to subsidize zoo operations with $6.2 million per year won a comfortable passage, 66 percent to 34 percent.

The zoo levy is a renewal at a slightly lower rate - 0.40 mills compared with 0.42 mills in the past five-year cycle. It will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $9.57 per year. The lower tax rate will bring in about $300,000 a year less than in the last cycle.

Levy proceeds are used for veterinary services, feed and general care of the zoo's 2,000 animals. The tax dollars amount to about one-third of the zoo's annual operating budget.

The $6.2 million a year begins rolling into Hamilton County coffers next year. The zoo can bill the county to help pay for animal food, care and certain maintenance activities that relate to their 510 species of animals. Levy proceeds allow the zoo to free up other money to pay for educational programs and conservation efforts, such as the program that helped its Sumatran rhino become the first in 112 years to give birth in captivity.

The zoo will continue to offer a 50 percent discount to county residents on admission and parking one weekend a year.

Greg Hudson, the zoo's chief executive officer, said the tax dollars help the zoo remain a world-class facility. While the zoo would be involved in conservation and education programs with or without the levy, it is able to do more with taxpayer support, he said.

"We have more than 300,000 school kids involved in our educational programs every year," Hudson said. "So the partnership we have with the residents of Hamilton County helps us fulfill our mission."

The zoo attracts 1.2 million visitors every year. An audit of the zoo, mandated by the tax levy review process at the county, found that the facility has an $88 million economic impact in Cincinnati.

"And that's right in the heart of the city," Hudson said. "So we're very important from a tourism standpoint."

Although an anti-tax group opposed the levy, there was no organized campaign against it.

The Cincinnati Zoo opened in 1875.


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