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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

Voters support zoo's 2nd levy try

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Valentine Ononye and his fi ancee, Betsy Beredo, a COSI employee, watch early returns for Issue
11, a 0.167-mill levy for the children s science center in downtown Toledo. Valentine Ononye and his fi ancee, Betsy Beredo, a COSI employee, watch early returns for Issue 11, a 0.167-mill levy for the children s science center in downtown Toledo.
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COSI Toledo's levy request was too close to call early today, but it appeared the Toledo Zoo elephants are going to get a little breathing room with the projected victory of the zoo's second bid to pass a capital improvement levy.

"We're happy with the way it looks thus far,'' said Anne Baker, the zoo's executive director, late last night with a substantial portion of Lucas County votes remaining to be counted. "I'll be happier when 100 percent of the vote is in.''

Two other countywide levies also appeared destined for passage based on unofficial, incomplete results: a 1.4-mill renewal issue for Children Services, which will bring in $11 million annually and cost homeowners $37.19 per $100,000 of home value; and a 0.7-mill, 5-year Emergency Services levy for 911 emergency service that will cost property owners $21.44 per $100,000 home value.

But the contest remained way too close to call for Toledo's downtown hands-on science museum. Voting on the proposed 0.167-mill levy - which would generate $1.4 million each year of its 5-year life while costing the owner of $100,000 home $5.11 annually - was about evenly split for and against with less than half of the total precincts counted early today.

Given polls that showed a big defeat for the COSI levy, even close results were good news to officials there.

"We're cautiously optimistic,'' Dr. F. Michael Walsh, chairman of the COSI board, told The Blade last night.

The COSI Executive Committee was scheduled to meet this afternoon to determine a course of action based on the outcome of the election, Dr. Walsh said.

For Ms. Baker, a levy victory means a chance to focus on running the zoo and not running elections. Since she came on board April 1, she's been in the middle of a campaign, first in May, when an operating levy passed but a capital improvement levy failed, and now for this capital improvement levy.

"I think what it means is, we're actually going to be able to go ahead and really start to move along on things like the new Children's Zone, which you know I'm incredibly excited about.''

The zoo's 1-mill, 10-year capital improvement levy will bring in $8.6 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $30.62 annually.

With the infusion of funds, the two biggest projects the zoo will undertake are $14.5 million in improvements to the elephant and rhino areas and $23 million to upgrade the aquarium. Giving the elephants more space will allow the zoo to keep Louie and bring more female elephants to Toledo.

The funds will also allow the zoo to take up a to-do list that includes elephants full of not-so-glamorous necessities. Near the top of the agenda will be the $1 million replacement of four 50-year-old boilers. Another $6 million will go into a series of repairs, including new roofs. Add another $3.4 million to cover the cost of updating the zoo's electrical transmission system, or finding an alternative energy source.

Also on the less-sexy list is retiring $17.8 million in debt acquired to build exhibits under the previous zoo administration.

Probably the big surprise that zoo visitors will see in the 10-year-life of the capital levy will be a new Children's Zone, a $5.5 million item that is still in early planning stages. Another addition will be a butterfly house for native insects, to complement the zoo's successful and growing butterfly conservation programs.

COSI officials say they need the tax increase to pass to relieve the squeeze of increasing maintenance costs and declining attendance. Gate receipts have steadily declined since 2001, sinking to 211,000 last year.

COSI has tried to change directions, away from the tourist-attraction model, by partnering with local schools and colleges for educational opportunities.

Contact Jenni Laidman at:

jenni@theblade.com or

(419) 724-6507.



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