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Voters to Decide on Columbus Zoo Levy Next Week

Emma Surber Emma Surber Voters to Decide on Columbus Zoo Levy Next WeekPhotos via the Columbus Zoo.
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For the first time in recent years the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has received opposition from Franklin County voters regarding Issue 6, the proposed tax levy that is set to appear on the May 6 primary ballot.

The current property tax levy costs Franklin County residents, that own homes assessed at $100,000 or more, 41 cents a week. The proposed levy would raise that amount to 84 cents per week, or $44 per year.

CEO of the Columbus Zoo, Tom Stalf, said that it’s important to talk about these numbers due to misleading statements and ads about the proposed tax levy. Stalf believes that voters are still positive about contributing to the zoo, despite the tax increase.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response that Franklin County voters say yes,” said Stalf. “With that yes vote, it’s created jobs, and it’s created economic impact.”

In jobs and revenue, the Columbus Zoo estimates that it gives back to Franklin County and its residents nearly $238 million each year.

Opponents to the tax levy have been asking why only Franklin County residents are paying property taxes when the Columbus Zoo is located in Delaware County.

“Oh, Delaware County residents are paying, they’ve been paying since 1927,” said Stalf. “The Columbus Zoo is 588 acres of a nonprofit organization, which means that they [Delaware County] receive zero in property taxes.”

The Columbus Zoo is located in a township on property that is co-owned by the city of Columbus and Franklin County.

Stalf said that if the Columbus Zoo was in a different location, Delaware County would be able to build homes and businesses on that 588 acres that would be able to bring in jobs and revenue to the city.

Opponents of the levy have also raised concerns over what exactly the tax dollars from this levy will be used from, specifically a proposal of $65 million for a “third zoo” located in Downtown Columbus near COSI.

“People think it is a waste of money and shows evidence the Zoo is spending on its “wish list” – not its needs,” said Jonathan Beard, president and CEO of Columbus Compact Corporation. “Owning three zoos funded by Franklin County taxpayers is an extravagance that many people think is inappropriate.”

The city of Columbus is currently investing in an expansion project to clean up the waterways near the Scioto Peninsula where COSI and Veteran’s Memorial are located. They are demolishing the Main Street Dam, cleaning up the water, narrowing the waterways to build an additional 33 acres of land Downtown, and planning to demolish and rebuild a new Veteran’s Memorial.

On the south side of COSI is three acres of land that the city of Columbus and the zoo would like to place a “satellite zoo” to further education for the main zoo campus, as well as to help COSI.

Stalf said the that city would like to see growth, education, and tourist dollars to help COSI.

“We are a community based zoo, and the community is investing in the zoo,” said Stalf. “The great news is that we’re giving back a huge return and that is they key.”

According to a SurveyUSA Election Poll, more than 55 percent of Franklin County residents have said that they will vote “No” to Issue 6, with a trailing 36 percent to vote “Yes”. 389 residents were determined by SurveyUSA to vote in the Ohio Primary on May 6.

For ongoing updates and discussion on the Columbus Zoo Levy, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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5 Responses to Voters to Decide on Columbus Zoo Levy Next Week

  1. lenjaffe May 2, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am

    > On the south side of COSI is three acres of land that the city of Columbus and
    > the zoo would like to place a “satellite zoo” to further education for the main
    > zoo campus, as well as to help COSI.

    My problem with this levy, is that it isn’t an operating levy, it’s an expansion-funding levy.

    While I’m willing to support zoo operations with my taxes and my admission fees, I’m not willing to fund expansion. Especially not when we have to fight tooth and nail to fund our schools from operating levies.

    Sorry, zoo. Please come back with an operations only levy, and save tax-payer funded expansion for when times are better for the middle class.

  2. CB_downtowner May 2, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm

    In my opinion, a satellite zoo is the piece Franklin County should be most excited about. I think most are just questioning why it has to be permanent and others have raised good questions about if it could be funded some other way. What I don’t doubt is that a downtown zoo would be an enormous win for Columbus. I trust the Zoo’s experience drawing traffic, and I would hope and expect that accelerates retail and residential development. I agree we shouldn’t blindly support development on tax dollars, but I’m just excited about a truly unique, attention-grabbing attraction coming to downtown. That should hopefully benefit not just downtown, but all of Columbus.

    • Walker Evans
      Walker Evans May 2, 2014 3:03 pm at 3:03 pm

      My understanding (and someone correct me if I’m wrong) is that the Downtown Zoo is happening regardless of the levy passing or failing.

  3. Columbusrules May 3, 2014 7:33 am at 7:33 am

    My understanding is that the majority of the money 85-90% will go toward the main zoo. (Animal hospital, upgrades, ongoing capital expenditures, sea lions, a tram, etc.) 10-15% of the money will be used to leverage private investment for the downtown zoo. They will be redeveloping Franklinton one way or another – the downtown zoo will continue to be primarily leveraging private donors. And I would rather have something that families in the neighborhood can use compared to another fancy shopping area.

    Also, Ohio law prevents regionalization of taxation. (ie. Columbus and Delaware cannot jointly vote for or against the zoo levy.) It is interesting in Kasich’s push for more regional cooperation that he hasn’t addressed this. He repeals the 12.5% property tax rollback, and trumpets a refrain about local gov’t cooperation, but doesn’t allow for more regional tax policies. I

  4. JK43123 May 7, 2014 5:30 pm at 5:30 pm

    Yes Walker, from what I have read the Columbus and Franklin County bigwigs have the money to build the minizoo whether or not this levy passes.

    Second, what are doing spending tax dollars on the zoo anyway? I am reading that the zoo is a private 501 (c) 3 organization, not a government agency. Who are they to have a levy on any ballot? The world is filled with 501 (c) 3 groups, why aren’t they on the ballot then? And if they are not a government agency, and they can be on the ballot, why not be on the Delaware County ballot where they are located? It all smells, and I don’t understand any of it.

    PS I am a big animal lover so that is not the issue.

    John

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