The Salt Lake County Council eased the restrictions on amultimillion dollar bond for the Hogle Zoo on Tuesday.
Now, if voters approve, the zoo must raise $11 million before the county will release $33 million in property-tax revenue. Then if the zoo wants any more money to finish its master plan, it must wait another five years.
It's not quite the $65 million the zoo wanted, but it will do, zoo director Craig Dinsmore said. The zoo still needs to finish its $85 million master plan, so the zoo will likely be back again to ask for more public funding in the future, he said.
"We're happy to have the opportunity now to go to the voters and place the emphasis on convincing the voters that the animals of Hogle Zoo need help, better homes, and we're prepared to do that," Dinsmore said. "We're very confident that the voters want to do this kind of thing, they want to help the zoo continue to improve."
Last month, the council voted to put a $65 million zoo bond on the ballot, but required the zoo to first raise $20 million in two years before seeing a penny in public funding. Zoo officials cried foul and pleaded with the council to reconsider.
Councilman Mark Crockett originally voted against the proposal, but said he was open to compromise because he hopes "this opens the door more for us to work cooperatively" in future decisions that need bipartisan support.
The compromise includes a clause that will send both Crockett and Councilman Joe Hatch out on a public-information campaign to inform voters about the financial needs of the county.
"We know there are probably some significant capital needs. I am going to be very clear in my address in saying I know this is coming down the pike," Hatch said. "Despite that, it's very important the public vote yes on this bond and approve it.
"There are other needs in the community, but this is well worth the cost. Other people may come to the other conclusions but it is clearly the voters who need that information to decide."
Crockett previously voted against the zoo bond because he said there were too many other needs the county must address with tax dollars instead of funding zoo improvements.
"I think this is a good compromise that will allow voters to make a choice with full information about all of the priorities," Crockett said.
The Utah Taxpayers Association thinks "this joint-communications strategy is going to be a wash."
"Nothing that was done today gives the association any confidence that the voters will go into the voting booth with any idea of the magnitude the problems that the county faces are," said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the association. "The County Council did a disservice to the taxpayers of Salt Lake County today."
Dinsmore said the zoo will first build an arctic polar bear exhibit and then likely start work on the African savanna area, if voters approve the bond. Those two projects alone would cost about $35 million, he said.
Zoo officials have already raised $7.3 million and believe they will be able to come up with the rest of the private funding in order to qualify for all the public dollars.
If approved, the zoo bond would raise property taxes $4 per year for 20 years on a $235,000 home.
The zoo bond is one of two bonds on the ballot this November. Tracy Aviary will ask voters for $19.4 million to make major upgrades and gain its accreditation back. Aviary officials said they need the money just to meet the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's accreditation standards.
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