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Opinion: Failed Columbus Zoo levy would have funded unnecessary expansion

May 7, 2014

McClory.10@osu.edu
Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, holds a serval cat. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, holds a serval cat.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

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.


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Category: Student Voice

Comments (9)

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  1. Where's my car? '89 says:

    Nice argument. It’s still a nice zoo tho

  2. Anon says:

    “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.”

    Are you aware that the cost has been $21 each year for every $100,000 of property value since 1994? That cost has never gone up, despite inflation.

  3. I'm hungry too says:

    The levy proposal was a disguised attempt to help fund the beginning of a renovation of the Scioto Peninsula. http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/public/2013/08/13/scioto-peninsula-announcement.html

    The increase in the levy was probably thought of as a foolproof way to get money from the taxpayers since a zoo levy request has never failed in the past.

    The zoo will need to submit another levy request and if it’s reasonable I’m sure it will pass. The peninsula money will need to be raised a different way.

  4. Grove City Taxpayer says:

    No one at the zoo has cared about senior citizens. We pay almost $6,000 per year for numerous tax levies. We are retired. More property taxes mean less money for doctors, food, etc. STOP BEING SELF-CENTERED. Consider the plight of other people for once.

  5. South Franklin County Resident says:

    We are 25 miles from the zoo, which is not even in Franklin County. Too far to go to regularly, plus the admission prices are ridiculously high. Like all government bureaucratic institutions, the zoo’s staff + board members + volunteers want, more, more & more. It’s time to cut back the existing levy, not add a new one.

  6. Your Mom says:

    Let the rich folks in southern Delaware County start paying their fair share.

  7. I pay taxes too says:

    Less about building the zoo bigger, more about bringing the zoo to a different part of town. Having a satellite zoo in an area that is not that great and is trying to build itself back up would have been very nice. I looked at it more as a renovation and addition to an area than building the zoo bigger. Looking at the big picture, it was sad to see it fail. Although I do understand, it’s hard to pay more taxes. Anon made a good point too.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Your argument is all over the place. Shut up.

  9. John Redfing says:

    Let the zoo use it’s own money. If they need more, up the user fees. I don’t use the zoo, or the zoo golf course, or zoombeezee bay, or the hotel, or whatever else they offer I’m on the south side of Franklin County and don’t care to travel to another County to go to a boring zoo. Get the zoo off the tax payer dole, and cut Jack Hanna’s travel budget and his paycheck, and we might save the tax payers more headaches trying to pay their already excessive taxes, and expansion nonsense. Seems everybody has their hand out for a free lunch at the tax payers expense. Make the zoo self-supporting and get the leaches off the backs of the poor.

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