Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Sales Tax Hike Sought to Fund Zoo

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Sales Tax Hike Sought to Fund Zoo

Article excerpt

An old organization has been revived to help raise funds for the Oklahoma City Zoo, notably through use of a sales tax.

Friends of the Zoo, which was an oversight committee until the Oklahoma City Zoological Trust was formed in 1975, has been revived to head an initiative to increase sales taxes 1/8 of one cent, it was announced Thursday.

If enough signatures are obtained, a special election could be called in April on the tax issue, said Ron Rosser, the group's chairman. That increase would be earmarked for the zoo, he said.

"The Oklahoma City Zoo is at a crossroads and we need to ask the voters which way they want their zoo to go," he said. "The people of Oklahoma City love their zoo and for good reasons, as it has been one of the finest zoos in the Southwest and one of which we should be proud."

Although no dollar figures were mentioned, Rosser said funds earmarked after the election would allow zoo officials to start master plan development to ensure the zoo's future.

"We are not at a crisis point," he said during a press conference. "But we want to avoid reaching a crisis."

Some voter resistance is expected, he said, especially after an Oklahoma City School District bond issue failed Wednesday.

"But we are confident," he said. "If we get as many votes as they did, we'll succeed. They needed a 60 percent majority. We only need a simple majority for the sales tax to be approved."

Several improvement projects, as well as routine maintenance programs, are planned if the tax issue is approved, Rosser said. Among these would be to improve cages and display areas of the great apes, bears and large cats.

Maintenance also is needed because many of the exhibits and buildings were constructed under a Works Progress Administration program in the 1930s and must be replaced.

Zoo revenues and attendance have not kept pace with inflation, Rosser said.

Figures released by the zoo show that in the fiscal year ended June 30, revenues were $4.88 million, their lowest point since the fiscal year ended June 30, 1984, when revenues were $4.56 million.

Attendance has followed a similar downward trend. In the last fiscal year, attendance was 498,702, the lowest point since 492,334 in fiscal year 1981 and only the second time in 11 years that attendance was below 500,000.

Part of the reason for the latest decline, Roser said, was the weather during May and June.

"If you run a zoo, you don't want it to rain in your best season of the year," he said. …

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