West Side News

Voters emphatically deny zoo levy request

By

Franklin County voters soundly rejected Issue 6, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's levy request that appeared on the May 6 ballot.

According to unofficial final results from the Franklin County Board of Elections, the 1.25-mill permanent levy lost 92,218 to 38,914 votes, or 70.3 to 29.7 percent.

The issue would have raised $32.7 million annually.

"The obvious reaction is that today we put together what we, the board of directors, thought was a reasonable growth plan and the voters of Franklin County told us -- and we heard them very, very clearly -- that the vision we had for the future is not what they wanted," said Phil Pikelny, chairman of the zoo board of directors and an executive at the Dispatch Printing Co., the parent company of ThisWeek Community Newspapers.

Pikelny said zoo officials will regroup over the next several weeks, talk to residents and try to come up with an acceptable plan.

"Tonight I have no way of knowing" what that is, Pikelny said.

He said the zoo has to make inroads with voters, who have repeatedly supported tax issues since 1985.

"The other thing I will tell you unequivocally is it is very important the Columbus Zoo has some kind of levy and the current one expires in 2015," Pikelny said.

"And without one, the zoo will be seriously, seriously challenged. Luckily, we have some time."

As for the future of Downtown Adventure, the proposed satellite facility on the Scioto Peninsula, Pikelny said, "I absolutely don't know."

Throughout the campaign, zoo officials repeatedly said the levy was designed to revamp and update the facility in southern Delaware County, which technically is in the city of Columbus and Franklin County, according to a lease agreement.

But they were repeatedly knocked off message by the levy's organized opposition, Citizens for Responsible Taxation, which argued the levy was a costly and unnecessary way to fund the Downtown Adventure, the 50,000-square-foot zoo, estimated to cost between $50million and $65 million. It would have opened in 2017.

The owner of a house valued at $100,000 would have paid $44 a year -- more than twice the amount now -- if the levy had passed. Those same property owners will pay $21 a year until the current 0.75-mill levy expires next year.

Dan McCormick, an organizer with the Citizens for Responsible Taxation, persisted in his assertion that Downtown Adventure was a "third zoo," in addition to the current zoo and the Wilds, located in Muskingum County:

"We're happy that the voters had the chance to look at the total issue and avoided the distractions brought about by the zoo," McCormick said.

"We believe our message about a third zoo downtown and doubling your tax permanently with no participation from outside regions resonated well with the voters.

"We look forward to the zoo re-evaluating how they'll continue their wonderful mission with the resources we've given them."

Comments