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Published: Thursday, 7/20/2006

Levy committee OKs zoo issue for November ballot

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The committee charged with reviewing the merits of proposed tax levies yesterday gave its support to a 1-mill capital improvement levy for the Toledo Zoo - though not unanimously.

Danielle Singler, a financial adviser for Savage & Associates, voted against a recommendation by the Lucas County Citizens Tax Levy Review Committee that the county commissioners put the levy on the ballot. The levy mirrors the one narrowly defeated by voters in May.

"When I was going over the finances of the zoo, there were areas I thought they would be able to cut back," Ms. Singler said. "The zoo is great, but there are so many public agencies that could be more conservative [with spending.]"

The zoo's 10-year, 1-mill capital improvement levy request would raise $8.6 million a year and cost homeowners $30.62 annually on a $100,000 home.

A 0.85-mill operating levy for the zoo was approved in May.

The proposed 1-mill levy would take the place of a capital improvement levy that expired in December, 2005.

The capital levy is slated to help fund more space for the zoo's elephants and rhinos as well as pay for a new Children's Zone. It also will provide money for more parking, fund five temporary exhibits, help pay off nearly $17 million in debt, and supply $10 million for basic maintenance.

Committee member Tom Susor, an operations manager at TAS Inc. Electrical Contractors, expressed concern that upgrades in maintenance were placed lower on the zoo's priority list than items such as new exhibits.

Though it did not cause him to vote against the recommendation, Mr. Susor said the zoo should be thinking of upgrading its systems if it wants to save money in the future.

The nine-member committee also is considering a five-year, 0.7-mill replacement levy for Lucas County 911; a five-year, 0.167-mill levy for COSI Toledo, and a five-year, 1.4-mill renewal for Lucas County Children Services.

If all are approved, the proposed levies would collectively cost $94.40 a year for the owner of a home valued at $100,000.

Committee members also decided yesterday to ask Children Services Executive Director Dean Sparks to come to their Aug. 1 meeting to answer questions about the agency's reserve fund, which is $26.7 million. Children Services said the levy would bring in about $11 million a year and cost $37.19 a year on a $100,000 home.

"The concern we have is not whether they are doing great stuff, they are," said committee member Kyle Grefe, a community impact specialist for the United Way of Greater Toledo. "We have questions about the reserve."

Already scheduled to appear on the November ballot is a 1.5-mill replacement levy for the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority. Because the Lucas County commissioners do not vote to put TARTA levies on the ballot, the issue has not come before the advisory committee.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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