Following a levy defeat in 2014, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is asking Franklin County voters to approve a 10-year renewal levy.
“The levy provides 25 percent (about $18 million) of the zoo’s annual revenue and is necessary to keep programs and services at the current level,” said zoo CEO Tom Stalf. “Levy dollars support animal health and nutrition, facility maintenance and replacements, education and animal programs, conservation in our community, and staff to provide quality animal welfare and a great guest experience. Without levy support, we would face numerous reductions including the number of animal exhibits, operating hours, education programs and staffing levels. There would be no new exhibits, and the repair and maintenance of existing buildings and habitats would be limited.”
In 2014, the zoo sought a 1.25-mill permanent levy that would have collected $44 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value. That levy would have funded a number of projects, including opening a satellite location in downtown Columbus. However, a Columbus Zoo levy was defeated for the first time, due in part to a campaign by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group funded by Charles and David Koch. After the defeat, Stalf said the zoo would re-evaluate its needs before going back to the voters.
Campaign ads stress that this year’s levy will not increase taxes. Issue 15 is a renewal of the zoo’s 10-year, 0.75-mill property tax levy, and the tax would remain at $21 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value. The levy is set to expire at the end of 2015.
“It supports only the current zoo location – not the Wilds, Safari Golf or Zoombezi Bay,” Stalf said. “The feedback we are receiving from Franklin County residents is positive – they want to keep their zoo great – and we do not know of any organized opposition.”
Officials said the zoo had record attendance of 2.9 million visitors in 2014. It houses more than 11,000 animals representing 600 species worldwide. Its $30 million “Heart of Africa” exhibit, opened in 2014, has received top honors by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The AZA also accredited the Columbus Zoo for its care and conservation of wildlife.
Although it has a Powell address, “the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium sits on land owned by Columbus and Franklin County that is leased to the nonprofit Columbus Zoological Park Association for the management of the zoo,” states zoo literature. “Franklin County residents have provided levy support for the zoo since 1985.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.