Voters to hit the polls on zoo tax question
Posted July 30, 2008
ROYAL OAK — Voters in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties will vote on a proposed tax increase Aug. 5 that if passed would raise nearly $15 million for the Detroit Zoo and its operations.
Each county has a separate ballot question, which asks for approval of a zoo authority that will collect 0.10 mills for 10 years. The tax would cost a homeowner of a $200,000 home $10 annually.
“This has been a deep democratic process on what is the best plan that makes the best sense,” said Ron Kagan, executive director of the Detroit Zoological Society, the group that oversees the zoo’s operations.
In 2006, the city of Detroit turned over the operations of the zoo to the group, stopping its annual subsidy of approximately $8 million and the $2 million-$3 million subsidy for capital maintenance.
Kagan said it’s not easy to ask for a tax increase.
“People do though really have to think about the value of what something is (worth),” he said.
Kagan was asked what would happen to the zoo if the millage failed in all three counties.
“The simple answer is there really isn’t another way for this to work,” he said.
In terms of an economic impact, $60 million gets pumped into the local community from the zoo annually, he said.
Kagan said that although the money raised through taxes would be higher than what they were previously receiving from Detroit, the city used to handle human resources, legal items, purchasing and other items that are now the responsibility of the zoo as well.
Since 2006, the state has given the zoo money to help with its operations. The zoo currently has a $26 million annual budget, with the cost of exhibits being raised through fundraisers.
If passed, there would be a discount of $10 for a family membership to residents of the counties it passed in, admission for school children would be half off for the counties it passed in, and annually, the zoo would hold senior days for the counties it passed in.
While leaving the zoo with his wife and two children last Friday afternoon, Tom Versele of Rochester Hills said he’s in support of the tax increase.
“It’s such a worthwhile place,” he said. “For the price, it’s just really for the greater good.”
He said the family has a membership and attends the zoo approximately four times a year.
Oakland County Commissioner Robert Gosselin, R-Troy, voted against putting the question before voters and said he’s gotten a lot of support from the no vote.
“I love animals and go to the zoo. It’s a great place,” he said. “But this is just another tax increase. Government has enough of our money.”
He said the zoo needs to be self-sufficient.
Leon Drolet, president of the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance and a county commissioner in Macomb County, said his group is against the tax increase but has not put a lot of energy into opposing it.
“It’s something that is widely perceived that it will pass,” he said.
Drolet said the zoo is very popular and that’s why they should be able to raise their own money.
“The zoo is a great place, but so is Cedar Point,” he said. “Plenty of people pay good money to go to Cedar Point.”
Kagan said raising entry fees to pay for the complete operations of the zoo — what he calls the Disney model — wouldn’t work with the zoo.
“The accessibility of the zoo would completely change,” he said.
If passed in Oakland County, the tax would be expected to raise $6.47 million in the first year — $3.19 million in Macomb County and $5.29 million in Wayne County.
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