Northland News

Zoo officials to regroup, reach out after levy loss


Over the next several months, officials with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will regroup and assess the lopsided loss of Issue 6, the 1.25-mill levy that was trounced at the polls May 6.

Phil Pikelny, chairman of the board, said it was a stinging rebuke by the public, which defeated the issue 92,218 votes (70.32 percent) to 38,914 votes (29.68 percent), according to final but unofficial results from the Franklin County Board of Elections.

"It just showed the growth plan we had was out of sync with voters. We heard loud and clear the folks weren't going to do the plan we had offered," said Pikelny, an executive at the Dispatch Printing Co., the parent company of ThisWeek Community Newspapers.

Franklin County voters have supported zoo levies since 1985.

But this time it was different: The proposed Downtown Adventure, a satellite zoo on the Scioto Peninsula, stole the lion's share of attention during the campaign. The 50,000-square-foot facility, estimated to cost between $50 million and $65 million, gave an opposition group plenty of rock-solid talking points about a "third zoo" and doubling of zoo property taxes.

"My suggestion to the board is we hold public meetings," Pikelny said. "I know individually I will reach out to some of the people who were opposed."

Dan McCormick of Citizens for Responsible Taxation, the anti-levy group, struck a conciliatory tone.

"If an overture is made, as good public servants, we would be happy to do anything we can to help the zoo," McCormick said.

"Both personally and for Citizens for Responsible Taxation, we're willing to do anything to help the zoo and we look forward to any dialogue that is initiated."

The owner of a house appraised at $100,000 would have paid $44 a year had Issue 6 passed. That same property owner pays $21 on the existing 0.75-million property tax that expires at the end of 2015.

Pikelny said it's unclear whether a levy will appear on the fall ballot, which will be crowded with a gubernatorial race and several social service issues.

"That isn't the greatest environment to be in and having to get your message out there," he said.

However, the zoo must decide by August whether to proceed so the Franklin County Board of Commissioners can vote to put the issue on the general election ballot.

The county commissioners could wait until 2015 but that would put the zoo on a tighter time frame to pass something, Pikelny said.

"There's no question the zoo is going to need revenue," he said. "We want to be very thoughtful, very careful as we look at the future and how to proceed."

He said he didn't know if the zoo would ask for a renewal levy of 0.75 mill or increased millage.

"Anything's possible," Pikelny said. "It will certainly be different than what we asked for May 6."