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Published: Tuesday, 5/9/2006

Low central-city turnout hurt zoo levy

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Failure to bring out the central-city vote may have contributed to the defeat of the Toledo Zoo's 1-mill capital improvement levy.

Low voter turnout in minority neighborhoods, where levies generally are favored by a large percentage of the voting public, may have cost the zoo enough votes that would have pushed the issue over the top. Also eroding support was the fact that the 10-year tax issue was on the ballot as a "new" tax.

The capital improvement issue was to pay off debt, build better elephant facilities, and pay for maintenance at the aquarium. A 0.85-mill, five-year operating levy was approved by voters May 2.

"Historically, the minority areas are very supportive of levies," said Stanford Odesky, who runs a market research firm that bears his name and frequently analyzes vote outcomes in Lucas County.

"In any situation, be it Toledo Public Schools or whatever, we frequently find if there isn't a very strong effort to get out a vote in a minority area, it can have the influence on a close vote so that it's defeated," Mr. Odesky said.

For instance, Ward 8 - with the zig-zag boundary of Collingwood Boulevard, Detroit Avenue, and Dorr Street on one side and Cherry Street on the other - approved the capital levy by 63 percent of the vote. That is far higher than most other wards, and lower only than Ottawa Hills, where the capital levy won with 76 percent of the vote. But the big win in Ward 8 packed little wallop because only 9 percent of the voters there went to the polls.

In levy elections in 2002, 2003, and 2004, the precincts of Ward 8 were among those most likely to favor an issue with lots of yes votes. In many Ward 8 precincts, more than 80 percent of the voters cast positive votes for levies, Mr. Odesky said.

"If they would have brought out another 5-10 percent of the vote in those areas, they would have picked up the 900 vote difference" to win, he said.

The final, unofficial vote count showed the 1-mill issue lost by 897 votes.

Dave Kielmeyer, vice president of client services at Funk Luetke Skunda Marketing, which advised the zoo on its levy campaign, blamed the defeat on tax-weariness. "I think the biggest thing it came down to was resistance to new taxes. That's something I think we could have done a better job with," Mr. Kielmeyer said.

The levy was on the ballot as a "new" tax, but it was to replace a tax that expired in 2005. Zoo officials chose not to go forward with a renewal attempt in 2005 while it dealt with the aftermath of the controversial firing of its longtime chief veterinarian, Dr. Tim Reichard.

Neither Mr. Kielmeyer nor Mr. Odesky believes the controversy at the zoo last year played a direct role in the election results. "When a vote is that close, there are probably dozens of factors that come into play," Mr. Kielmeyer said. But the fact that this was perceived as a new tax "was probably the one point I catch as the dominant one."

"It's always more difficult when it's called 'new' rather than it being called renewal or replacement," Mr. Odesky said. When voters know they're already paying a tax "it's easier to cross that bridge. If people haven't thought a lot about the levy, and they see in there this is new money, that certainly has importance."

Contact Jenni Laidman at:

jenni@theblade.com

or 419-724-6507.



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