TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Reid Park Zoo has some much-needed funding coming its way.
After several late and provisional ballots were counted, it was announced Thursday, Nov. 9, that Proposition 203 was approved by voters.
The city of Tucson will now impose a 10-year, 1/10th cent sales tax for improvements, operations and maintenance at the zoo.
It's estimated the tax will bring in $8 million a year for ten years when the tax sunsets.
"We're absolutely ecstatic," said Zoological Society President Nancy Kluge. "The staff let out a cheer when they found out."
For the zoo, it's a double celebration because not only did it get good news on the tax, but it also opens a Red Panda exhibit Saturday, Nov. 11.
Princess Lily is on loan to the zoo through March. A second Red Panda will arrive in a few weeks. They are the first pandas ever in Arizona according to zoo officials.
"We want people to know the Red Panda is an endangered species," said Zoo Director Jason Jacobs. "There are less than 10,000 of them in the wild."
For the zoo, having an endangered species like the Red Panda furthers is mission which has, in recent years, become more about conservation rather than display.
"The animals are here to truly teach people about conservation and if we're not able to do that, then they don't need to be here," Kluge said. "That's what we're all about."
The money will be used to pay for millions of dollars in needed infrastructure improvements in the 50-year-old zoo, but also to provide new habitat for several species. Most notably the tiger exhibit will be expanded from the present quarter acre to four acres.
"We've got to make this change," said Kluge. "If we can't do this, then these will be the last tigers at Reid Park Zoo."
With the passage of the tax, they will be able to do it according to Kluge.
The zoo hopes the new addition will also provide enough space that the zoo can begin a breeding program for the endangered Malayan tiger.
The Pandas will only stay until the weather starts to warm up, because it's unclear if the Pandas are able to adapt to the hot Tucson summers.
Prop 202, which allows for a charter change to impose the tax, passed easily Tuesday night, Nov. 7. Prop 203, however, which amends the city code to allow the tax increase, was too close to call at the time.
It was widely reported that both propositions had to pass for the sales tax to pass, but that may not have been the case.
According to legal advice given to zoo officials, if Prop 202 passed and Prop 203 failed, the Tucson City Council may have been able to pass the tax if it so desired.
The Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin said his department was researching the issue but would not release an opinion until all the votes are tallied. Rankin, according to the city manager's office, wanted to see if Prop 203 passed, in which case an opinion is moot.
That now appears to be the case.