Zoo to seek no tax increase, 10 year renewal levy


The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s board of directors are seeking a renewal of the zoo’s 10 year, 0.75 mill property tax levy.

As a renewal, if approved by the voters, the levy would not increase taxes that Franklin County residents currently pay yearly, which are about $21 per $100,000  assessed property value. The levy request requires the approval of the Franklin County Commissioners and must be filed with the Franklin County Board of Elections by Aug. 5 to appear on the November ballot.

The levy provides 25 percent of the zoo’s annual revenue, or about $18 million a year. The funds are used for animal health and nutrition, staff, facility maintenance improvements and replacements, and local education and animal programs.

“The existing levy is set to expire at the end of this year, so without a renewal in November, 25 percent of the zoo’s annual revenue disappears,” said Board of Directors Chair James Balthaser.

According to zoo officials, the loss of 25 percent of the zoo’s annual revenue would require substantial cuts including reduced operating hours and educational programs and limited repairs and maintenance of existing buildings and habitats.

Columbus Zoo President and CEO Tom Stalf said the focus is on continuing to operate, maintain, and improve the existing zoo and its community education programs.

Stalf said there are no longer plans for adding another zoo location and none of the levy dollars support The Wilds, which is a 10,000 acre conservation center and safari park located in southeastern Ohio. He added that, while the 18 hole Safari Golf Club and the 22 acre Zoombezi Bay water park add to the zoo’s attraction and help drive attendance, the levy does not support either of those.

On April 1, the zoo implemented price increases for admission and memberships for those residing outside of Franklin County, while prices for Franklin County residents and groups remained constant. The zoo also expanded half price admission for Franklin County residents from one to three days a week (every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday). Free in-county school programs, $2 per person field trip pricing for Franklin County and discounts for all senior citizens were also continued.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium sits on land owned by Columbus and Franklin County that is leased to the non-profit Columbus Zoological Park Association for the management of the zoo. Franklin County residents have provided levy support for the zoo since 1985. The zoo is home to more than 10,000 animals representing more than 575 species from around the world. Attendance at the zoo last year was 2.9 million, which was a record for the zoo.

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