A permanent levy that would have brought in $32.7 million annually for the Columbus Zoo failed Tuesday, with about 70 percent of Franklin County voters against it.
The levy would have paid for a new satellite zoo downtown, as well as other things including new and renovated exhibits, a zoo hospital update, new security and a new amphitheater.
That’s a lot of money to expect from taxpayers for so little in return. Let’s be serious, what was the zoo expecting, an overwhelming victory?
The current levy brings in $18.9 million annually, or $21 each year for every $100,000 of property value. The updated levy would have cost more than twice that: $44 annually for every $100,000 of property value. That kind of sudden increase could be rough on voters.
School levies in Ohio passed with 69 percent of votes cast Tuesday overall, but I don’t think a school levy would have passed if the school district wanted twice as much money for a school that was already doing fairly well. Voters would have simply said, “No, you’re doing fine, and we don’t need to pay you twice as much for something we don’t know will be any better than what we have now.”
Remember, too, that the zoo isn’t actually necessary for Columbus. It’s very nice, it helps tourism, it’s fun to take your kids to, and it provides jobs, but it’s not schools, nor is it municipal buildings, nor is it garbage collection. It’s not essential for Columbus to survive.
However, those who proposed the levy had a point: it is important for the zoo to have a steady source of income to make sure it can actually sustain itself in the long run. I think fear of sudden cuts to income was part of the reason the zoo tried to ask for this much money for a long period of time. After all, there is no guarantee voters would continuously approve the levies.
The zoo is essential to the animals that live there. Some of the animals at the zoo are found in few places in the United States. For example, only a few zoos in the country display koalas, and the Columbus Zoo is one of them. If the zoo suddenly cut its koala program because it couldn’t afford to take care of them anymore, the koalas might not have anywhere to go. The zoo needs money to sustain the programs it already has, and that is OK to ask for money to do.
But there is no reason the zoo needs to be so ridiculously huge. The next levy the zoo proposes should be smaller, more reasonable and not include plans for new “satellite campuses.” Because face it: the zoo is big. It’s lovely to visit, especially with little kids, but it doesn’t need to have so much, nor does it need a bunch more plans to expand. It’s OK to be a little bit bigger – a levy bringing in $21 million total annually for the next 10 years would seem sane compared to the current one – but $32.7 million is not an amount the zoo can reasonably expect from taxpayers.
The zoo should remember what it’s really there for: to teach kids about animals around the world. It isn’t as crucial that the zoo expand out of its borders as it is that it provides education, understanding and information to kids about the world around them. Asking for twice as much money indefinitely is not a part of that mission.