Tax seen as way to fund zoo plans, but how much is in dispute - Tucson News Now

Tax seen as way to fund zoo plans, but how much is in dispute

The Reid Park Zoo is looking to bring pygmy hippos back to the zoo. (Source: Reid Park Zoo via Facebook) The Reid Park Zoo is looking to bring pygmy hippos back to the zoo. (Source: Reid Park Zoo via Facebook)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Tucson's Reid Park Zoo is looking for a dedicated funding source to implement its 10-year capital plan which includes building a pygmy hippo exhibit, an African Safari Lodge and a Tropical Discovery Center plus the staff and infrastructure needed to maintain them.

It needs nearly 10,000 valid signatures to put a one-tenth of one percent sales tax question to voters on the November ballot.

One-tenth of one percent would equal to just about a penny for a $10 pizza.

But the return for the zoo is significant.

"It'll generate between $8 and $10 million a year," said Nancy Kluge, the President of the Tucson Zoological Society, which is spearheading the driver. "We want the zoo to have financial stability."

The Reid Park Zoo is owned by the city of Tucson, which has had a series of budget issues in recent years and the Zoological Society sees this as an effort to ease some of the financial pressure on the city while at the same time preserving the integrity of its zoo accreditation.

"We cannot let accreditation be in jeopardy," Kluge said.

But some in the city are urging the zoo to find another way to fund its capital needs.

Tucson will ask voters this spring for a half-cent sales tax to finance roads and public safety, but it's not just Tucson.

Others are asking for sales taxes, like Pima County to lower property taxes, or the state to fund education. And it all adds up.

While the zoo proposal is small, it adds up.

"That's their penny and the county is going up to 4 percent (sewer tax). The state is going after something for education, pre-K. Everyone is asking for their penny," said Steve Kozachik, Ward VI city council member. "Before long you're talking lots of pennies."

The zoo tax would be in competition for the city's proposal which might tax the patience and the pocketbooks of voters.

"Everyone is going after that same sales tax because it's an easy target," he said. But the voters are going to get to a point where they say, 'no mas. We're not going to do it.'"

Instead, Kozachik proposes an non-resident fee on zoo goers which would be dedicated to the zoo.

But the zoological staff feels it would be hard to go to the well to ask more from its customers and cites a survey which showed 71 percent of the people asked support the small increase.

"If it's a small bite, I don't really see why not," said Fred Kuhura, visiting from New York.

Stephanie Raab, a military mother who brings her children often, said she would "be happy to pay it."

The city and Zoological Society have been talking about what other funding sources could raise the money without the sales tax but no agreements have been reached.

"We will continue to talk to the city to make sure we make the most responsible decision," Kluge said. "But absolutely we cannot let accreditation be in jeopardy.

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