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Published: Tuesday, 7/22/2008

COSI sets 3rd plea to voters for funds

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COSI officials are hoping the third time will be the charm with Lucas County voters.

The board of the now-closed downtown Toledo science museum yesterday sent a letter to the Lucas County Commissioners officially requesting a five-year, 0.16-mill property tax levy be put on the Nov. 4 ballot.

It is the same levy the museum has sought in the last two general elections. After its second failure last fall, the museum was forced to close Dec. 31 after nearly 11 years of operation.

If approved, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an annual $5.21.

"The past two attempts have failed to pass by less than 1 percent of the vote cast," states the letter from David Waterman, the COSI board's chairman, to the commissioners.

"Thus, we have convinced a sizeable portion of Lucas County voters this miniscule funding request is a sound investment in the county's future."

The November levy was voted down by 43,248 to 41,571. In 2006, it was defeated, 71,249 to 70,001.

Mr. Waterman said he anticipates the large voter turnout expected for the presidential election will help the museum, since the levy had been defeated by such narrow margins.

"We think this [election] will be a much more accurate assessment of what the community wants," he said.

If the levy were to pass, the museum wouldn't reopen until fall, 2009, to allow time to rebuild staff and programs, and some new exhibits. Mr. Waterman said the museum hopes to secure funding commitments from corporate donors and organizations that could contribute to exhibits with an alternative-energy theme.

If the levy fails again, COSI likely will shut for good, he said.

A struggling economy "doesn't help," Mr. Waterman said. "It's a new tax But education is almost always publicly funded."

He added, "I defy anyone to find a tax that only costs $5 a year. If we were asking for anything more substantial, we wouldn't go to the voters."

COSI's mission is key to educating Lucas County children for jobs in technology, science, and other knowledge-based fields, he said.

After the museum closed in December, some staff were retained for several months to work on outreach and distance-learning programs, but that almost has entirely ceased, Mr. Waterman said. A few people are working on an hourly basis to fulfill commitments made earlier in the year, he said.

The levy proposal has been referred to the Citizens Levy Review Committee, which can endorse, recommend rejection, or remain neutral on such requests. The commissioners can either approve or not approve placing the levy on the ballot.

Commissioner Ben Konop said he supports allowing voters to decide the museum's fate, and is optimistic about its passage with high voter turnout.

"Especially when people look at a cost-benefit analysis, and having seen it closed for several months now. I think the lack of the resource shows the real need for it."

If the museum were to reopen in 2009, he added, it would coincide with the opening of the sports arena, providing a big boost for downtown.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said she looks forward to hearing from the Citizens Levy Review Committee, who will have to balance the difficult economy against the strong science education and downtown development that COSI brings.

"It's an important decision," she said. "We will give it every consideration because of its value to the community."

The Children Services Board of Lucas County, Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County, and Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities all have November levy requests before the Citizens Levy Review Committee.

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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