The Salt Lake County Council approved and possibly killed a bond proposal all in the same vote Tuesday.
The council voted to put a $65 million bond proposal on the ballot in November to fund new exhibits at Hogle Zoo. But that vote came with one giant catch that could doom the project.
If voters approve the bond, the zoo will never see a penny of that $65 million until zoo officials can raise $20 million in private funds.
Even worse, the zoo only has two years to come up with the cash.
"C'mon, that's a hurdle you can't cross," said Councilman Jim Bradley, who called the bond conditions "onerous."
The task is so burdensome that the zoo is considering asking the council to not put the bond question on the ballot at all.
"We've been asked to meet a standard that is, perhaps, unprecedented," Hogle Zoo director Craig Dinsmore said.
The zoo had planned on raising $20 million all along, but said it would take 10 years to reach its goal. The private-capital campaign has already raked in $7.3 million since November 2006.
But if it took that long to raise $7.3 million, the other $13 million likely will be unattainable in two years, considering the time restrictions and sinking economy, Democratic Councilman Joe Hatch said.
The conditional bond proposal was approved on a party-line vote, with the Republicans on the prevailing side.
Hatch said the Republicans accomplished what they had always planned "to kill this project."
"That was a poison pill to kill this," Hatch barked at Republican Councilman Marv Hendrickson minutes after Hendrickson flipped his vote and placed the conditions on the bond question.
Hendrickson had previously told the Deseret News and other media outlets he would vote to put the bond on the ballot, but didn't indicate anything about forcing the zoo to come up with $20 million upfront.
Councilman Mark Crockett said he didn't believe Tuesday's vote will kill the zoo's hope of new exhibits. He said he was under the impression zoo officials believed they could easily raise $20 million.
"Today was the first time I've heard them backpedal away from that," Crockett said. He said the zoo's project is worthy of public funding, just not now.
"They make sense for us to invest in, I'm just still not convinced this is the right timing, given what's going on with the economy," Crockett said.
Zoo officials want to build out the zoo's master plan, with a new arctic exhibit and a parking structure tops on the priority list.
If voters approve the zoo bond, property taxes would jump $10 a year on a home valued at $235,000 for the next 15 years.
The Tracy Aviary also asked the council to put a bond on the ballot Tuesday. But aviary officials escaped with a less-burdensome restriction in order to get $19.3 million in bond money.
If voters approve the bond, the aviary will get $13.5 million right away. But in order to get another $5 million, aviary officials must raise $1.5 million in private funds.
"It's not easy, we have our work cut out for us," said Pete Taylor, who serves on the aviary board. "They gave us a step forward that we think we can work with and move forward."
The aviary needs $19.3 million just to meet the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' accreditation standards.If approved, the aviary bond would raise property taxes $2.51 a year for 15 years on a $235,000 home.
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