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Zoo CEO Emphasizes Levy Renewal Is Not An Increase

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Zoo CEO Emphasizes Levy Renewal Is Not An IncreaseFeeding giraffes at The Columbus Zoo — Photo by Wenxin Sally Xia.
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In 1985, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium first started getting support from Franklin County voters through a tax levy. The current zoo levy, which was established in 1990, is set to expire at the end of 2015 unless a levy renewal makes it onto the ballot and gets approval from the voters in November.

Tom Stalf, President and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, is confident the Franklin County commissioners will approve the levy renewal for the November ballot, and believes the voters will approve it as well – so long as they understand it won’t raise their taxes.

“As I speak to our community I’m hearing that they are supporting keeping the zoo what it is and keeping it great at no increase in tax,” said Stalf. “It’s essential that we spread that message because what we are today is a fantastic experience that is known throughout the United States and is driving people to see the Columbus Zoo, they’re staying in hotels, they’re buying food, they’re generating revenue and without that support we would change to something that would be just a local attraction and would be smaller.”

“We don’t want to talk about the zoo without a levy because it would not be what we’ve all grown to know after the last thirty years,” he added.

Stalf said the levy renewal would fund the Zoo until 2025 while keeping admission prices low. Most of the money generated from the levy will go towards renovating older facilities and animal habitats, particularly the North America exhibit, built in 1984, the twenty-year old animal hospital and the great ape areas, some of which were built in the 1950’s. Stalf also said the Zoo hopes to expand and utilize the Animal Encounters Village more than it is currently used.

The levy is not an increase, stressed Stalf, but a renewal of the levy in place since 1990. This is what separates this levy from the previous Zoo levy proposal that was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

“It’s not an increase so therefor it’s not about a new campus,” said Stalf. “The last levy talked about having a Downtown presence and this levy campaign is just to renew what we currently have.”

Stalf noted the Zoo’s status as an economic driver, employing over 2,200 people, as well as its mission of education and conservation. Stalf also said the Zoo is preparing a campaign to get the their message to voters and get them to the ballot box in November.

“That’s the main concern that I have is the last few elections we haven’t seen a high turnout on election day and the power that we all have is the power to vote,” said Stalf.

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