Voters approve tax to improve Kansas City Zoo

Thursday, November 10, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Zoo will become a regional tourist attraction now that two counties have approved a tax increase that will provide it with a consistent revenue source for the first time in its 102-year history, the zoo's director said.

Jackson and Clay counties on Tuesday approved a 1/8-cent sales tax that is expected to generate an additional $14.2 million a year for the zoo, more than doubling the current budget of about $11.6 million funded by the city and private donations.

"It's extremely gratifying to take the Kansas City Zoo to a place where we now have stable funding," zoo director Randy Wisthoff said after the vote. "We are on the road. We have that financial backing. Now it's up to us to prove that we can spend it wisely and bring an even better zoo to the community, and we will do that."

The zoo is promising that a $15 million penguin exhibit will open in 2013 or 2014. Other projects included in its master plan are an outdoor orangutan jungle, a "predator canyon" for big cats and a giraffe feeding station, The Kansas City Star reported.

The tax takes effect Jan. 1.

It passed by 70 percent to 30 percent in Jackson County but barely passed in Clay County, with a 50.94 percent to 49.06 percent. In return for their vote, residents of the two counties will get reduced admission at the zoo, free admission on four Saturdays throughout the year, more school-related activities and mobile zoo visits.

Friends of the Zoo, which operates the Kansas City park, hope to expand the zoo funding district to include Cass and Platte counties in Missouri and, eventually, to ask Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas to consider joining.

Supporters had pushed for the regional funding district so the zoo would not be dependent on inconsistent funding from the Kansas City municipal budget and private donations. The city will still own the zoo but Friends of the Zoo will operate it under a contract that is up for renewal this year. A new commission that will include representatives from Jackson and Clay counties will oversee how the tax money is spent.

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