Wood County rejects Zoo ballot bidWritten by Jason Mack | | email@example.com
The Toledo Zoo faces uncertainty and potential cuts after the Wood County commissioners unanimously rejected its request to place a levy on the ballot.
Dr. Anne Baker, CEO and Executive Director of the Toledo Zoo, presented the zoo’s case to the commissioners during a public meeting on June 21. According to Baker, the zoo has already cut full-time equivalent positions and cut expenditures everywhere they can. The zoo froze salaries last year but provided a 1.5 percent increase this year.
“We will not close the zoo; it will not be the zoo you know today,” Baker said.
“We are down to the point where we will begin eliminating positions. We will have to cut back on what we do. Will that have an impact on Wood County? Yes. We work with businesses in Wood County. If we don’t use their services, they don’t get the money. Can we cut back? Yes. Have we, and will we cut back further? Yes. Will Wood County businesses and citizens feel that impact? Yes.”
After receiving $1.2 million less than expected from Lucas County due to declining property values, the zoo requested a 0.85-mill levy in Wood County which would have generated an estimated $2.44 million. The proposed levy would cost owners $26 per year for every $100,000 of property owned.
“I thought it was very interesting there was no effort to evaluate business solutions, but the immediate response by the board and management was to seek out more tax dollars,” said David McClough, Bowling Green resident and assistant professor of economics at Ohio Northern University. “If the zoo was economically viable in the first place, it wouldn’t need to be subsidized by tax payers.”
The zoo would have provided the same perks to Wood County that Lucas County already receives. This includes free admission one weekday each week, free admission to schools for field trips and free outreach programs for schools, libraries and other facilities.
“We’re very disappointed,” Baker said. “We continue to believe that we are a regional facility with great benefits to the region. The board is going to have to put its head together and see where we go from here.”
Baker said the zoo came to Wood County because they had the second-highest attendance with 53 percent of residents visiting. Lucas County is first with 66 percent. However, the data is skewed because it is based on visitors providing their zip code when entering the zoo. Anyone who visited multiple times was counted multiple times toward the percentage.
“It’s very difficult to be supportive of the zoo when you don’t feel they’ve made any effort to come up with viable business solutions,” McClough said. “People sensed the zoo was taking the easy way out and trying to get something for nothing. As a zoo member who really values the zoo, I found that part most disturbing. It makes me question the long-term viability of the zoo under the current leadership.”
Baker said Wood County was just the first step and the zoo plans to request a levy in both Fulton and Ottawa County in the coming years.
“We felt that given our intent is to expand this and make it a regional effort, the appropriate thing to do is ask for the same level of support throughout the region and offer the same benefits,” Baker said. “That way everyone is treated fairly and equally.”
The 0.85-mill operating Levy in Lucas County expires at the end of the year. The zoo is requesting a renewal which would provide an estimated $6.4 million per year for the next five years.
“The trouble facing the zoo is economic, and the solution being proposed is political,” McClough said. “When people go to the zoo, they vote for the zoo when they pay for it. I vote for the zoo when I increase my membership. I vote for the zoo when I buy things there that are overpriced and not worth it. The marketplace helps us identify what we value or what we don’t value. The problem with the political marketplace is you have a majority rules system where a majority can impose something unwanted on a minority.”
Baker argued during the June 21 meeting in favor of keeping admission rates the same at the zoo. However, that afternoon the zoo presented a packet to Lucas County’s Citizen Levy Review committee outlining plans to increase admission rates. The plan will raise admission next year by $1 for Lucas County residents and $3 for residents of outside counties. It will also increase membership rates by $2 for Lucas County residents and $8 for residents of outside counties.
Perrysburg resident Jean Scech is willing to pay the increased rates.
“I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income,” Scech said. “I don’t appreciate any more taxes. I also have been a zoo member for over 25 years. If my membership has to be raised, fine.”