Voters show support for the zoo with millage renewal

By: Victoria Mitchell | C&G Newspapers | Published August 3, 2016

 Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties supported a renewal millage for the Detroit Zoo Aug. 2.

Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties supported a renewal millage for the Detroit Zoo Aug. 2.

File photo

ROYAL OAK — Tri-county residents showed their overwhelming support for the Detroit Zoo at the polls Aug. 2, as they approved a renewal millage from 2018 through 2027.

The zoological authority 0.1-mill renewal millage in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties will cost a homeowner whose home is worth $200,000 about $10 a year and go into effect in 2018 after the current millage expires. It will be used to fund maintenance and operations at the Detroit Zoo. 

It is estimated that the renewal millage will generate about $3.9 million from Wayne County, about $5.6 million from Oakland County and about $2.6 million from Macomb County in 2018.

Nearly 75 percent of Oakland County voters cast ballots in favor of the levy for the popular Royal Oak attraction.

“We’re very gratified that the relationship in Oakland continues to be a strong one,” said Detroit Zoo Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan at about 9:35 p.m. Aug. 2.

Kagan was pleased to see that Oakland County results were coming in strong, but he was waiting on results from Macomb and Wayne counties late into the night Aug. 2.

Seventy percent of Wayne County voters approved the renewal once the final results came in, and close to 59 percent of Macomb County voters approved the renewal.

Oak Park resident Jenny Maisel is an avid zoo supporter and hoped earlier in the day that the millage renewal would pass so that it would continue to keep people excited about coming back.

“We have enjoyed exploring the zoo with our kids since they were small,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see the continual improvements they make every year.”

Maisel said that in addition to being an annual Detroit Zoological Society member and visiting the zoo, she also sends her children to the summer camps and often takes advantage of other special programming.

Society officials said the previously approved millage funds about a third of its $35 million annual costs. The millage money is used for operations and maintenance of the 125-acre campus, which sees about 1.4 million visitors a year.

Zoo officials said other enhancements since the millage was originally adopted include expanded regional education programs, animal care programs, energy efficiency upgrades, infrastructure improvements, animal habitat renovations, and pathway and parking lot resurfacing.

“It’s a very small millage and the zoo offers so much, not only to our community here in Royal Oak — because it happens to be in Royal Oak — but for the metropolitan area as a whole,” Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison said before the election.

Society officials said other millage benefits include a $10 discount on zoo memberships for tri-county residents, free days for senior citizens and the ability to keep admission prices low.

“In 2006, the Detroit Zoological Society assumed responsibility for governing, managing and operating the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo,” Patricia Janeway, Detroit Zoological Society communications director, said via email. 

Janeway said that prior to that time, the Detroit Zoo’s annual operating budget had been supported by one-third earned revenue — admissions, parking, concessions, rides and rentals; one-third contributed income — donations, memberships, sponsorships and grants; and one-third operating subsidy from the city of Detroit. 

“At transition, the city’s operating and capital infrastructure support ceased, and at least $10 million was needed annually at the time to close the funding gap,” Janeway stated. “In 2008, voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties approved a 0.1-mill property tax for 10 years to support the Detroit Zoo.”

Zoo officials said that according to CSL International’s “Economic Impact of the Detroit Zoo” report, the Detroit Zoo generated more than $100 million in economic impact in 2013 through operations, vendors and visitors. 

It provides 1,082 full- and part-time jobs.