Levy Would Double Columbus Zoo Taxes for Franklin County Residents

Columbus Zoo levy mailer
A mailer sent in support of the Franklin County levy for the Columbus Zoo

Franklin County voters will decide in the May 6 primary whether the amount of property taxes they pay for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which is located in Delaware County, should be doubled.

The nonprofit that manages the zoo and The Wilds in Muskingum County has been subsidized by local taxpayers since its creation in 1952, and supporters of the levy argue that an additional location in downtown Columbus is worthy of increased public funding.

Last December, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to demolish Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, which was built in 1955, to prepare for the new taxpayer-funded facility.

Based on property value data from the Franklin County Treasurer’s Office, passage of the Issue 6 zoo tax hike would increase the average Franklin County resident’s taxes in support of the zoo from roughly $29 to roughly $59 — an increase of around 105 percent.

Columbus Zoological Park Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, reported $61,019,806 in revenue, $54,385,108 in expenses, and year-end net assets of $148,914,221 to the IRS in 2012.

A total of $17,833,913 of the nonprofit’s revenue came in the form of government grants. Dale Schmidt, who vacated the position of CEO in August 2012, was paid $533,315.

Nonetheless, the levy is supported by the Columbus Chamber of CommerceThe Franklin County Democratic Party has also endorsed the tax hike, sneering in a February Twitter update that “Republicans hate wildlife.”

Citizens for Responsible Taxation, a local group opposed to Issue 6, argues that the proposal is simply a bad deal for taxpayers.

“We love the zoo, just like everyone else. We love Jack Hanna, we love animals. This isn’t about a zoo,” Citizens for Responsible Taxation spokesman Daniel McCormick told Media Trackers. “With all the needs in the community, it is imprudent to say that one of our great needs is a third zoo located downtown.”

“It’s a very interesting coalition of Democrats like myself and [campaign treasurer] Mary Lorms, Republicans, libertarians, Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, inner-city blacks… all these people,” McCormick added.

According to McCormick, the view of many black community leaders is, “our kids need to be educated, vaccinated, and taken care of with all the mental health services and everything else that goes with that, and you’re telling me that our priority is to build a third zoo downtown, which most of our folks can’t even afford to go to?”

McCormick also said that black community leaders have told him, “this is real simple for us: they want to pass a tax on me, so somebody living in one of those condos can look down on a zoo that they’re not paying for.”

Columbus Zoo Director Emeritus Jack Hanna, the most recognizable advocate of Issue 6, does not live in Franklin County and would not be subjected to the tax hike he is promoting.

The pro-tax Committee for the 2014 Columbus Zoo Levy did not respond to a request for comment. Absentee voting for the May 6 primary began on April 1 for the county’s 798,189 registered voters.